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E-M:/ De-skewing the Reporting on the Electric Regulatory Legislative Package just passed

There is a wee bit of a disconnect today as one scans the news covering the impact of costs on ratepayers as a result of the legislation passed yesterday by both houses of the Legislature. 


Some of the press have been focused only on the idea that the new electric energy legislation passed yesterday by both houses of the Michigan Legislature will potentially add up to $3 per month per residential customer for renewable power (see Lansing’ NBC affiliate for this at http://www.wilx.com/home/headlines/28635594.html ). This might be characterized as the Senator Mike Bishop special -- making it sound like renewables are causing prices to rise dramatically.  In this report, in addition, comments from Senator Richardville are included where he talks glowingly about the proposed nuke plant as if it is a good idea for Michigan, leaving it to appear that the price bump discussed here would cover nukes.


Others are picking up that a larger increase in costs for residential ratepayers is coming because Michigan manufacturers and businesses demanded that electric rate costs be shifted from factories to families, senior citizens, low income folks and other residential electric users.  The Associated Press story showing up in a number of papers points out that passage of the legislation means: “Residential electric bills will go up by 8 percent to 20 percent over five years - but not by as much if the Legislature had done nothing, according to backers who said Michigan now is assured of reliable, cleaner power and not needing to build as many coal-fired plants.” http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080919/NEWS04/809190325/1005/NEWS04


Lastly, the Detroit Free Press front page did a better job by putting most or all of the factors out on the table.  An article by Chris Christoff explains the increase the costs as a result of the legislation restoring most of the monopoly position for the utilities, BUT he also reports the DTE $10 BILLION proposed nuclear plant announced yesterday.  A lot of good information is included on the webpage with this article, including Q&A about the costs: http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080919/NEWS06/809190406 (Somehow a story by Tina Lam that showed up in the paper this a.m. about the DTE nuke plant proposal isn’t immediately findable on the page, however)


The truth is often the main victim of intense legislative fights with political overtones, and this mess is no different.  There would have been increases in rates under almost any scenario, including no action at all.  With 8 coal plant proposals and a nuclear plant proposal, the costs will be drastically higher than most of what is being talked about today.  Energy efficiency, as was pointed out by the papers the quoted Marty Kushler with ACEEE, will actually SAVE money for customers. 


But readily available, objective information that has been brought forward in Michigan has often been ignored so far.  At least 63 coal plants have been cancelled in the US during the past few years,  the majority because they would cost too much and there were better, cheaper ways to meet the demand.  Diverse folks without environmental or alternative energy biases, including 3 major Wall Street investment banks and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have all documented that the cost of coal and nuclear power is rising fast and wind, solar and other renewables are already cost-effective by comparison. (The FERC report on page 11 shows comparisons for estimated costs of new generation at

http://www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/06-19-08-cost-electric.pdf ).  Much more information is available for many different sources on these issues as well -- all verifiable and documentable.


One particularly important aspect of the legislation that passed is that there will be a requirement for each company or public power entity proposing to build new conventional generation to go through an integrated resource planning process, which will allow the public to at least see and comment on they claims and proposals instead of being subject to the extreme and diverse claims that have characterized the legislative debate from the start.  But at the heart of this as well is the importance of letting people know that they CAN reduce the costs of electricity today by simple energy conservation steps.  While price increases will affect us all, we are not entirely at the mercy of the electric companies, and we can even benefit the earth and our pocketbooks by doing the smart, simple stuff first.






Anne M. Woiwode, State Director

Sierra Club Michigan Chapter - 109 E. Grand River Avenue, Lansing, MI 48906  - 517-484-2372    anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org

Visit us at http://michigan.sierraclub.org/index.shtml


Act Today: Join our Legislative Alerts System! http://mackinac.sierraclubaction.org

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"The idea of shifting to a carbon-free society appears to be technically feasible. The question is whether it's politically feasible or economically feasible."

Brian O'Neil, National Center for Atmospheric Research