There’s no denying that there is an urgent need to decide the energy future of our homes and businesses in Michigan. With the combined crises of energy affordability, pollution, and climate disruption facing us, it is imperative that we move quickly towards a clean, resilient energy system. Unfortunately, our incumbent utilities have done more to stifle progress than stimulate it.
DTE Energy CEO Gerry Anderson has made much of the supposed “capacity shortfall” caused primarily by the retirement of archaic coal plants. It is not a shortfall, but the question of how we best meet Michigan’s energy needs in a way that protects our air, water and health, and keeps our electricity bills affordable that ought to concern us. And there is much in Anderson’s answer to that question which is cause for concern.
First of all, DTE’s commitment to renewable energy like wind and solar is farcical at best. Their definition of clean energy includes such things as waste incineration and fracked gas, neither of which are renewable resources and both of which are based on reckless financial speculation. And it is low-income people, rural people, and communities of color that have borne the brunt of these extractive forms of energy – from polluted air and asthma to the devastation of local economies and the eminent domain seizure of land.
To have a safe and reliable electricity grid in the long term and affordable rates, we need to invest in locally owned clean energy and energy saving programs that prioritize people over profits. This will keep money circulating in our communities and cities, supporting our local economies. So long as we pay our bills to a monopoly utility whose primary concern is making record profits, we will continue to see our rates go up even as our usage goes down. DTE Energy may want ratepayers to save energy – but they’re not very interested in saving ratepayers money.
DTE and other Michigan utilities created the situation at the root of this supposed “crisis” – they have stalled truly sound energy planning for at least eight years. DTE continues to fight clean energy and community ownership with every ounce of its political strength, despite all those flyers their PR team keeps kicking out. They resisted efforts to plan for the sound transitions for communities dependent on the coal plants they are retiring. DTE spent over $11 million to fight against achievable renewable energy goals in 2012, and over $260,000 on lobbying efforts in 2014 and 2015. They want us, the ratepayers, to foot the bill for the $2 billion NEXUS pipeline, to bring fracked gas into our state. They’re penalizing cities for saving energy by attempting to raise rates on LED street lighting and renewable energy.
But Michiganders are pushing back. Cities are uniting to keep their communities safe with city-owned street lighting. Communities are building clean power, and pushing for policy that will make it easier. Activists and local elected officials are saying no to damaging pipelines. People continue to cut down their energy bills and do their part to protect the planet by reducing their energy waste. We know the energy future that we want, and we aren’t going to accept any attempts by Gerry Anderson to cheat us out of it.
We already know our own power. It’s time for us to own it.
Jackson Koeppel is Executive Director of Soulardarity, a member of the Clean Energy Now Coalition, and a winner of the 2014 Brower Youth Award.