In June 2021, Consumers Energy, a major Michigan utility, filed a second long-term plan for providing electricity to its customers, also known as its integrated resource plan. Unfortunately, the plan does not meet the requirements of Michigan law: Its proposed long-term strategies are neither reasonable nor prudent. If implemented, the integrated resource plan would unnecessarily raise prices on customers and make their electricity supply less reliable.
More than 30 parties have participated in public hearings on the plan. With their input and public comments, there have been over 750 filings, representing tens of thousands of pages of legal documents, as well as hundreds of hours of direct testimony and cross-examination. Organizations involved in the public hearing process, such as the Mackinac Center, must have sufficient funding, staff and experience in order to make an impact.
It is increasingly clear that the Mackinac Center must be intimately involved in these hearings to protect the rights and interests of our supporters, who are directly affected by the utility’s plans. While a few intervening participants focus on how the integrated resource plan will affect consumers, the input from the environmental groups is overwhelming and must be balanced.
Consumers Energy wants to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2040. So it plans to rapidly close existing large, reliable generation facilities and replace them with restrictions on energy use. It also plans to use solar, backed by limited supplies of natural gas. This state-regulated monopoly plans to reduce its use of fossil fuels, matching the demands of green special interests. But its plans will reduce the company’s ability to provide reliable, affordable electricity to customers. Worse, as we have noted in our recent comments to the state agency that oversees utility activity, these plans could put the reliability of the regional electric grid at risk. They could also expose customers to rapid price swings, brought on by rising natural gas and commodity prices.
Additionally, the company has proposed closing its existing facilities well before their planned life cycle is up, which would needlessly add to its debt. The resulting financial consequences, known as stranded costs, would fall on customers.
The Mackinac Center has asked the Michigan Public Service Commission to act. The MPSC should protect the reliability of the grid and ensure that Michigan’s electricity prices remain competitive with those in neighboring states. The MPSC, the official state regulator of electric utilities, must protect Michigan’s power consumers from unreliable service and rapid price swings. As such, it should look askance at Consumers’ choice to limit customers’ use of electricity and to rely on weather-dependent renewables for as much as 90% of its electricity supply by 2040.
We did receive pushback on our comments from environmental groups taking part in the public comment process. But we expected them, and they did not effectively undermine our contention that the utility should emphasize reliability and price over a green agenda.