Imagine your sole source of heating in the midst of a harsh Michigan winter is your kitchen’s oven. That is not just a hypothetical situation. Bethany Stutzman, community solutions director at United Way of Jackson County, said she has seen it happen when visiting a client, and it is especially worrying when there are children running around with an open oven.
Her point, raised during a panel discussion of affordability experts at the June 16 meeting of the Michigan Public Service Commission’s (MPSC) Energy Affordability and Accessibility Collaborative, was not to shock, but to illustrate the negative effects that financial burdens from high energy bills can have—effects that cannot be easily captured in terms of dollars and cents. As another panelist, Shama Mounzer of Wayne Metro Community Action Agency, said, “if you are unable to keep your family warm, that is causing you to have a financial burden, and that is causing you to have anxiety.” That anxiety in turn causes households to try to keep warm through unsafe ways, Mounzer said.
(See this previous blog post introducing the collaborative.)Read more
There has been a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for “smart” energy technologies that can empower consumers to cut their energy bills, improve their efficiency and use more clean energy through smart thermostats, rooftop solar, battery storage and more. The fuel for all of these tools is data. Data in easily accessible digital form is more important than ever, but a lot of our utility bills are still stuck in paper or PDF formats.
In addition, we have to make sure that more data being available does not violate people’s privacy and cause data to end up in the wrong hands. CUB of Illinois has had success in implementing a framework to provide access to while also protecting customer data in that state.
As part of the MI Power Grid initiative to modernize Michigan’s energy regulations, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) has convened a Customer Education and Participation workgroup. This group just started a series of public meetings that examine questions around data access. The first of these was on May 25, and it laid out how lack of data access is holding back the growth of energy efficiency and other developments in Michigan.Read more
The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan talks a lot in this space about how Michigan has unaffordable energy and how lower-income communities are especially burdened by high energy bills. How does Michigan, as a community, address these inequities (which fall disproportionately on communities of color)? What’s more, as the state and other players try to modernize the electric grid and transition to cleaner energy in order to meet the recently-announced net-zero emissions goals, how do we avoid making the inequitable burden worse? To address these questions, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) just held the multi-day Michigan Environmental Justice Conference, which was titled “Rebuilding Trust, Reimagining Justice and Removing Barriers.”
The whole event is on YouTube and features speakers including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. CUB Executive Director Amy Bandyk was honored to speak on a panel along with EGLE Climate and Energy Advisor Dr. Brandy Brown and Dr. Tony Reames, assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability.Read more
Photo Source: Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance
A very simple way to save money on your utility bill is to use less energy in the first place. It can be difficult, however, to change one’s habits around energy use. That is why efficiency upgrades to living environments—better insulation to keep the house airtight, high-performance windows that maximize sunlight in winter and minimize it in summer, “smart” controls for lighting and appliances, to name a few examples—are so effective. They are “set it and forget it” ways to passively reduce energy consumption.Read more
Photo by Brendan Wood, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0
The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan has been calling for an overhaul of programs to assist Michigan utility customers, particularly low-income and/or elderly customers. So we are happy to see a new effort underway by state regulators to figure out exactly how to fix many of the problems with existing aid programs. This effort stems from Michigan regulators’ response to the pandemic, but let’s be clear: even before the pandemic, the problems were still there. The pandemic has just heightened the urgency.Read more
Michigan regulators can confront two of the biggest challenges for energy consumers—poor electric reliability and the inequitable treatment of low to moderate-income customers—through data-driven changes to the way utilities are regulated, Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan Executive Director Amy Bandyk said March 26, speaking on a panel at the 16th Annual Michigan Forum on Economic Regulatory Policy, a conference held by the Michigan State University Institute of Public Utilities (IPU).Read more
Photo source. Licensed through Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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The Upper Peninsula Task Force has released its final report, a culmination of almost two years of conversations with energy providers, municipal leaders, regulators, academics, consultants and the general public. While the goal of the report is “to provide a roadmap for actions the state could take to improve affordability, enhance reliability, and promote energy security for UP residents,” the issues it confronts are some of the thorniest energy supply problems found anywhere.
That means that while the focus is how to help UP residents, the report is very relevant for energy consumers anywhere, including the Lower Peninsula. If policymakers and communities can address affordability and energy insecurity in a region with some of the most challenging geography for delivering electricity to customers, they can do so anywhere.Read more
More and more people are thinking about putting up solar panels on their homes. One of the biggest barriers to people installing solar panels has to do with perhaps the most basic question: Where do I put the darn things? Maybe your roof isn’t big enough. Maybe you rent, and don’t have the right to dictate what goes on your roof. Maybe you don't have the upfront cash for a down payment on solar panels. Or maybe it's a combination of all those factors and more.
Community solar is a concept created to address situations like that and expand access to solar power for those who would otherwise not be able to use solar panels. The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) recently held a meeting about community solar as part of the New Technologies and Business Models workgroup under the MI Power Grid initiative (MI Power Grid being the commission’s ongoing effort to transform its regulatory approach for Michigan energy in light of the disruption brought by renewable and distributed energy and energy storage).Read more
We are just a few weeks away from the Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force’s deadline to submit its final report to the governor about how to confront the complicated challenges facing the Upper Peninsula and its access to reliable, affordable and clean energy.
On March 3, the task force held one of its last meetings, in which the members discussed the draft recommendations for the final report, due March 31, and potential ways to improve the recommendations.Read more
Photo by Jason Pratt, used under Creative Commons license CC BY 3.0
We are about a year into COVID-19 and the pandemic, and while the toll it is having on the economy is as bad as ever, the protections for ratepayers have not gotten stronger in response. Quite the contrary—they are more meager than at the outset of the pandemic, when Michigan utilities like DTE and Consumers Energy were promising not to shut off power for vulnerable customer groups such as low-income and elderly customers.
In testimony recently filed with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) on behalf of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Michigan, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the National Housing Trust, expert witness Roger Colton, a consultant on utility issues for low-income customers, lays out in detail what should be done to help get customers through this winter and why the current approach is flawed.Read more