Here's how Michigan plans to respond to climate change

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Michigan has a new plan for climate change, and state officials want your comment.

The draft plan is the result of a year-long effort undertaken by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Council on Climate Solutions formed last year by executive order, which also directs state departments to act to reach carbon neutrality in Michigan by 2050 and “implement policies that advance the goals of the Paris Agreement, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emission by at least 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.” The council operates under the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

In the absence of a clear national climate policy, state and local governments are finding themselves leading the way. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Michigan is among 34 states that have published state-level climate plans — its first plan was published under Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2009. This new plan comes more than a decade later, amid increased concern about climate-related weather catastrophes and power reliability, and perhaps some renewed political will to accept climate change as fact and take action.

According to state documents, the Council’s work must include the following objectives:

  1. Identifying and recommending opportunities for the development and effective implementation of emissions-reduction strategies.
  2. Identifying solutions to resolve impact disparities across Michigan and recommending targeted solutions for communities disproportionately impacted by the changing climate.

Throughout 2021, five topical workgroups, convened by consultant The Great Plains Institute, met monthly to identify strategies for greenhouse gas reduction across five topic areas. Each group was asked to identify its top five recommendations in response to the following question:

What needs to happen in the next nine years—by 2030—to get us to the 2050 goal?

Additional recommendations were included in each workgroup’s report, and several groups mentioned that requirement to identify a “top five resulted in oversimplification. According to state guidance documents obtained by Michigan Climate News, consensus was not a requirement of the process.

The five workgroups and their co-chair​​s are as follows:

  • Buildings & Housing co-chaired by Charlotte Jameson, Michigan Environmental Council and Karen Gould, Michigan Public Service Commission
  • Energy Intensive Industries co-chaired by Steven Holty, Hemlock Semiconductor Operations Robert Jackson, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy
  • Energy Production, Transmission, Distribution, and Storage co-chaired by Douglas Jester, 5 Lakes Energy and Katherine Peretick, Michigan Public Service Commission,
  • Natural Working Lands and Forest Products co-chaired by Lauren Cooper, Michigan State University, and Scott Whitcomb, Michigan Department of Natural Resources
  • Transportation and Mobility co-chaired by Charles J. Griffith, Ecology Center and Judson Herzer, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity/Office of Future Mobility and Electrification

Workgroup members included nonprofit advocacy representatives, academics, industry representatives, utility interests, and other consultants.

Here are a few highlights of the recommendations:

Buildings & Housing

According to the federal data, Michigan’s residential and commercial buildings accounted for 19.8% of the state’s total energy-related direct carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, mostly due to natural gas combustion for heating. In addition to its top five recommendations, the workgroup issued an “overarching” recommendation advising the state to undertake an “economy-wide decarbonization pathways analysis” to identify greenhouse-gas target reductions by economic sector and “a least-cost, technology-agnostic pathway to net zero.”

The top five recommendations from the Buildings & Housing group include building energy efficiency, electrifying appliances, securing funding and financing, workforce development, and improving building codes. Of note, the workgroup recommends strengthening and extending the state’s energy waste reduction statute and maximizing funding to weatherize low-income homes. It also recommends studying the impact of building electrification on the utility grid. Under financing, it suggests implementing utility on-bill financing for energy efficiency, electrification, distributed generation, and other energy improvements. It also suggests a revolving grant and loan fund to serve people who don't qualify for low-income assistance programs and calls on the state to “commit to a path of reaching net-zero building codes no later than 2030.”

Energy Intensive Industries

According to the report, Michigan’s industrial sector accounted for about 22% of the state’s total energy-related direct carbon dioxide emissions, including on-site natural gas combustion and electricity produced to serve industry. The workgroup recommends that the state require utilities to deliver “carbon-neutral fuels,” focus economic development efforts on industrial “clusters” that can undertake “carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration,” further study on ways to achieve carbon neutrality in the industrial sector, pursue public procurement of low carbon products to spur market demand, and support a federal carbon pricing market.

Of note, the workgroup calls for an exploration of “carbon-neutral fuels,” including “electrification, renewable natural gas, and hydrogen.” Industrial hubs would co-locate industrial facilities to “share infrastructure, energy, or materials streams to achieve significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions” and collaborate on geothermal and district heating systems. The workgroup notes that the siting of such hubs should be “done thoughtfully, with thorough and meaningful involvement from communities at an early stage” to avoid environmental injustices.

Energy Production, Transmission, Distribution, and Storage

The workgroup begins with a baseline assessment of greenhouse gas emissions produced by Michigan’s power sector, noting that carbon dioxide emissions decreased from 2005 to 2018, including a significant decrease in emissions from electric power generation, while on-site natural gas combustion emissions from residential, commercial, and industrial sectors have increased. It recommends the state encourage holistic and integrated energy system planning, enabling behind-the-meter renewable resources, innovate in rate design, facilitate siting energy infrastructure, and evaluate gas policy.

The recommendation includes several specific and technical recommended changes to the Michigan Public Service Commission’s modeling requirements for utility Integrated Resource Plans — their plans for meeting future energy needs required under state law. This includes eliminating the solar distributed generation cap and several additional policy changes to encourage small-scale solar development. Innovations in rate designs would include allowing time-varying rates to encourage energy waste reduction, and setting rates as a percent of income for low-income customers.

A lack of consensus around these recommendations was noted, including the opinions that utility-scale solar should be pursued instead of behind-the-meter solar, that grid interconnection should not focus on distributed resources, and that on-bill financing should only be available for participants in utility-led programs. Of note, more holistic energy system planning would consider “externalities” like health implications, the social cost of carbon, environmental justice communities, climate resiliency, and local community impacts.

Transportation and Mobility

The transportation sector is the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in Michigan, accounting for 28% of the state’s total GHG emissions — more than the electricity sector. The workgroup recommends electrification of the transportation sector, a clean fuels standard, incorporating GHG budgets into state and local transportation planning, and increased investment in and access to zero-emission public transit.

The transportation workgroup was forced to balance competing interests in electrifying the existing transportation and mobility sector and increasing public transit and mobility. Of note, it recommends the state develop a Transportation Electrification Plan and incentivize the purchase of electric vehicles. It also suggests the state adopt GHG budgets for the entire transport sector and require planning agencies to plan within that framework — a novel approach now being tried in Colorado. It also calls for repurposing federal congestion mitigation funds away from road widening and towards solutions that reduce vehicle miles traveled.

Natural Working Lands and Forest Products

These recommendations are not yet available. They will be posted after tomorrow’s meeting on NOv. 23; watch here for an update.

EGLE requests public comment via email or during two planned public sessions on Wednesday, December 1, from 9:30-11:30 a.m., and Thursday, December 2, from 6-8 p.m. EGLE staff will then be tasked with incorporating them into MI Healthy Climate Plan. The plan will be submitted to Whitmer in 2022.


What questions do you have about the environment and climate change in Michigan? Please let us know by reaching out to me at NOTE: Please don't reply to this email, it will go into a digital netherworld, never to be seen again. We hope that changes soon!


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