The house Energy & Technology Committee in March conducted two days of marathon hearings on HB 5542 that would allow Michigan ratepayers to shop for their power, but allow regulated utilities to maintain their monopoly on the distribution of that power. It made for great theater, with the television lights, the pointed questions from the committee and the barbed and sometimes defensive responses from those at the witness table.
The choice debate is about one thing, and one thing only – rates. Large commercial and industrial ratepayers say Michigan’s rates are too high and competition will lower them. Others say opening the marketplace will lead in the opposite direction – higher prices and less reliability. Both sides lean on the same data and information to support their position, and presented examples of successes and failures from other states.
No one, however, disagreed with one point made repeatedly during those hearings: new US EPA air standards are forcing the closure of aging coal plants, and with those closures comes the loss of baseload generating capacity critical to reliability.
Some think Michigan should put its energy eggs in the natural gas basket, but they also know it only takes one hiccup to drive up gas prices, leaving ratepayers holding the bag.
As qualified small power facilities, biomass plants don’t have those limitations and bring reliability and diversity to the state’s energy portfolio.
Biomass is part of the solution. Where ever energy policy discussions go, biomass power needs to be part of a diverse energy portfolio that will best serve Michigan consumers.