SEMCO Gas Proposed Rate Increase Shows Warning Signs Ratepayers Should Watch

SEMCO service territory highlighted in yellow above. Source: Michigan Public Service Commission.

SEMCO Energy Gas Co. is not nearly as big of a name as DTE or Consumers Energy, but all Michigan residential ratepayers should take note of the latest rate increase request from SEMCO – the third-largest natural gas utility in Michigan. This case demonstrates a few of the common issues with utility rate cases that can be bad news for residential ratepayers.

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Upper Peninsula Task Force Examines Potential Solutions to Region’s Energy Shortages

(Image from Plains Midstream Canada presentation to the U.P. Task Force on Sept. 20, 2019)

The Upper Peninsula (UP) Energy Task Force, formed in June by an order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, has spent its first few meetings studying the lay of the land of the Upper Peninsula. Now, the Task Force is in its very early stages of determining the potential paths forward for the UP’s energy problems.

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Consumers Energy: Trying to Adapt to the Quickly-Changing Energy Landscape

Consumers Energy Co. plans to retire its Karn coal-fired power plant in Bay County by 2023.

Last year, a survey found that 71% of utility company leaders believe that a “utility death spiral” is a real possibility without regulatory or other changes. The idea of a “death spiral” has been around for several years and broadly lays out a scenario in which customer adoption of distributed energy technologies that allow customers to use electricity that doesn’t come from the utility (such as rooftop solar and battery storage) combines with higher efficiency to cause electric utilities to continually bleed customers and revenue. Calling it a “death spiral” may be a bit hyperbolic, but that survey indicates that at the least, many utilities recognize that they need to make dramatic changes to adapt to the new energy world, and that if they don’t, they face real problems.

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DTE Energy’s Long-Range Plan Fails Michigan Ratepayers

For decades, many states have required their energy utilities to regularly submit long-term plans laying out what the utilities believe is the best way to provide reliable and cost-effective service to their customers. Known as “integrated resource plans” or IRPs, this planning process forces the utility to show what investments and strategies it will make – what type of power plants to build, what older plants to retire, what kind of energy efficiency to pursue – depending on a variety of scenarios, from commodity price fluctuations to different types of government regulation that may or may not be implemented.

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CUB of Michigan's Comments on the MPSC Statewide Energy Assessment

Today, the Citizens Utility Board of Michigan filed the following comments on the Michigan Public Service Commission's Statewide Energy Assessment (SEA). 

For background, here is what the MPSC's website says about the SEA:

MPSC Statewide Energy Assessment (SEA)

Michigan experienced historically extreme cold weather from January 29, 2019 to February 1, 2019 due to a polar vortex. During this time, Consumers Energy asked natural gas customers to reduce usage and lower thermostats after a fire at its largest natural gas storage facility. In addition, both Consumers Energy and DTE Electric were called upon to ask their electric customers to curtail electricity usage to respond to regional constraints in electricity production across the Midwest. These events prompted the Governor to send a letter requesting the Michigan Public Service Commission to undertake a statewide review of the supply, engineering, and deliverability of natural gas, electricity, and propane systems, as well as contingency planning related to those systems.

On February 7, 2019, the MPSC issued an order in case number U-20464 to implement the Governor’s request. The initial report will be filed in the docket on July 1, 2019. Thereafter, and following examination of that initial report, the Commission will issue a final report by September 13, 2019. Interested parties will be given an opportunity to comment before the final report is issued.

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UP Energy Task Force 2nd Meeting Does a Deep Dive into Propane

The Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force’s second meeting (read our blog post about the first) was held in St. Ignace, Mich., on Aug. 5, just a stone’s throw from the Mackinac Bridge and the Straits of Mackinac. Under those waters is the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, whose cloudy future is one of the big reasons Gov. Whitmer created the task force in the first place.

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Why the UP Matters: Special Task Force on Upper Peninsula Energy Holds Its First Meeting

 

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has just over 300,000 people. That makes the entire peninsula less populated than each of the six largest counties in the Lower Peninsula. Most of the UP is closer to Wisconsin than to Lansing or Detroit.

So why should those of us that live south of the Mackinac Bridge care about the energy issues of such a small part of our state, population-wise? This is also an important question for UP ratepayers, since they will need to persuade policymakers in Lansing and elsewhere to take action.

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How You Can Improve Utilities in Michigan – A Look at the 2019 Grand Rapids Clean Energy Forum

Citizens Utility Board of Michigan Executive Director Amy Bandyk speaks at the Grand Rapids Clean Energy Forum on June 28, 2019. Charlotte Jameson, Michigan Environmental Council energy policy & legislative affairs director and board member for CUB of Michigan, is seated to Amy’s left, and Environmental Policy & Law Center Senior Attorney Margrethe Kearney is seated to Amy’s right.

The life of an energy consumer can feel powerless. Your rates go up every year. Your monthly bill is determined by an indecipherable, dizzyingly complicated tariff. You endure long hold times and leave ignored messages when you contact your utility. You constantly hear about how energy use is killing the planet and that fixing climate change is far too big for one person to have any effect.

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Members of the Public Make Their Voices Heard On DTE Energy’s Long-term Resource Plan

DTE Energy is the only choice of electricity provider for the vast majority of its 2.2 million customers across Southeast Michigan. So it makes sense that so many residents of the area crowded a conference room in downtown Detroit on June 20 for a public forum held by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) regarding DTE’s integrated resource plan, the utility’s long-term plan for the mix of coal, natural gas, solar, wind, energy efficiency and other resources it will use to produce energy for its customers.

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Upper Peninsula Energy Issues Are In a State of Flux, and the Future of the U.P.’s Utility Customers Is At Stake

The fate of utility customers in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is approaching a crossroads. Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, which supplies a significant amount of U.P. customers’ liquid propane for heating, is facing possible shutdown as the result of a dispute over the viability of the line. Meanwhile, solar power has been taking off in the U.P. at an impressive rate. Battery storage is on its way could be a big cost-saver, particularly for customers of UPPCO, the peninsula’s largest investor-owned utility, who pay some of the highest electricity rates in the nation.

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