Michigan legislature ducks action on energy reliability

Michigan lawmakers were shocked, shocked by mass power outages, but they have done nothing about the problem

The Democratic party controls all the levers of government in Lansing. It has checked off its favored agenda items at break-neck speed, including right-to-work repeal and corporate welfare giveaways.

Leaders in the legislature have demonstrated that they will rush through their priority items no matter the expense, even having representatives vote after a positive COVID test. So why have the Democrats not yet introduced a single remedy the state’s high energy costs and unreliability?

DTE Energy drew fire from Lansing in February after power failures hundreds of thousands of people were left in the cold and dark for up to a week. An ice storm caused the outages, but DTE’s response, or lack thereof, landed the company in legislative committee hearings to answer for the prolonged energy restoration.

Legislators such as Rep. Abraham Aiyash, the Majority House Leader, repeatedly took to social media to express outrage. “As many across Michigan tonight are impacted by freezing temps and no power, remember that since 2010, DTE has raised rates by BILLIONS of dollars,” Aiyash tweeted Feb. 23.

Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, received thousands in campaign donations from energy companies. She retweeted a thread by Art Reyes III, who blames political payoffs for the energy debacle in the state. “Why is this bad?” Reyes tweeted. “DTE pours money into our politics in Michigan because it’s paid off for them. They’ve effectively escaped much accountability despite consistent public outrage at awful service, long blackouts, and rising rates.”

Sen. Sue Shink, D-Ann Arbor, took DTE President Trevor Lauer to task during legislative committee hearings over his company’s large profits and lack of reliable energy. She noted that the company makes $1 billion in profits per year and the CEO makes more than $10 million.

“You recently put in a request for the largest rate increase in state history, about $622 million,” Shink asked in the hearing. “You regularly have a return on equity which is about 10%. Would you be willing to reduce that rate of return to invest in more reliability?”

Yet for all of the strongly-worded rebukes, the party in power has done nothing to remedy the issue. 

“Today marks 100 days into my second term and I’m thrilled about the progress we’ve made to deliver for Michiganders,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tweeted April 10. “Every day we’re focused on the fundamentals to move our state forward. Here’s to the next 100!”

Lower costs and reliable energy are apparently not their priorities, for all of the public fussing.

The legislature could push through a bill that would break up the monopolies. It would promote competition in lowering energy costs. Legislators could introduce myriad other fixes to ensure Michigan residents are no longer paying the highest rates in the region and 16% above the national average. Nobody has done so.

When the Senate Energy Committee meets Thursday, reliability is not on the agenda, but more regulation is. The committee planst to focus on Senate Bill 14, which would empower the administrative state.

Senate Bill 14 would eliminate a Rick Snyder-era state law prohibiting state regulations from being more stringent than federal regulations. 

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.