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House Energy Policy Committee Tackles Transmission Issue

On May 20, the Michigan House Energy Policy Committee conducted a hearing to explore transmission issues in Michigan, with a focus on the Upper Peninsula. Specifically, the hearing was to consider House Bill 4575, which would:

Supporters of HB 4575 want to move forward with development of a plan to create a new, more-robust transmission line from the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula, which currently receives transmission primarily via Wisconsin. One witness described the current transmission line as an “extension cord.”

Basically, the legislation is about making sure the Upper Peninsula has access to the power it needs. As we know from the recent capacity crisis issue in the U.P., these aren’t theoretical questions—and they have larger implications for our state as a whole. Michigan must look holistically at how transmission fits into the larger issues of affordability and reliability that are part of our impending statewide electric capacity crisis.

While making transmission more efficient and reliable is important, it does not replace the need for new power generation, in the U.P. or the rest of Michigan.

Witness Testimony

The hearing featured numerous witnesses from a variety of organizations, as well as lawmakers in support of the bill. Testimony began with the House and Senate bills’ primary sponsors in each chamber: Senator Tom Casperson and Representative Triston Cole. The focus of their joint testimony was that this transmission line is needed both for the future and for today, and that we need to make the investment now to ensure long-term reliability and growth in the U.P.

Both bill sponsors were open to new ideas and approaches for the bill, including a more wide-ranging bidding process and getting outside input on who can and should participate in the project’s governing board. They also noted that Governor Rick Snyder agrees that this is a process that needs to get moving if updated transmission to the U.P. is going to become a reality.

Member Questions

A number of witnesses, primarily Jim Ault of MEGA, echoed the Alliance for Michigan Power’s (AMP) concerns regarding the legislation: focusing on transmission as the only solution is not the best approach, especially in a time when other legislators—including House Energy Policy Committee Chairman Aric Nesbitt and his Senate counterpart, Chairman Mike Nofs—are focused on integrated resource plans (IRPs) for Michigan’s energy future.

A Better Approach

Importantly—and encouragingly—a number of witnesses focused on affordability and reliability as well, though we believe the discussion would have been more constructive if viewed within the context of Michigan’s capacity crisis.

As our elected leaders move forward with plans for the next generation of Michigan energy, it is vital that affordability, reliability, and capacity—the issues most important to Michigan energy consumers throughout the state—remain top priorities.