MPSC Acts on AG and CUB of Michigan Request for More Transparency With Federal Funds and Utilities

The MPSC commissioners at their meeting on May 12.

On May 12, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) issued an order in which it agreed to a proposal suggested by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and the Citizens Utility Board of Michigan meant to ensure that the state’s regulated utilities take full advantage of new federal funding opportunities for a variety of renewable energy, smart grid and other energy-related projects.

“The Commission agrees with Attorney General Nessel and CUB that there are numerous opportunities available under the new legislation for Michigan energy providers to take advantage of in their efforts to improve utility infrastructure that will in turn benefit ratepayers and the public interest as a whole,” the MPSC wrote in its order.

In March, we teamed up with the AG and sent a letter to the MPSC regarding the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), signed November 2021, and the $550 billion it makes available for infrastructure projects. Opportunities abound for energy-related infrastructure in the IIJA, such as funding for EV charging infrastructure, grants to improve the reliability of the grid and incentives for expanding hydropower facilities, to name a few.

Most of these opportunities require project beneficiaries to bid for access to funds. Because they do not face competition like ordinary businesses, we cannot assume that regulated utilities will pursue these funds with utmost diligence. That’s a problem for ratepayers, who may miss out on projects that could make their energy cleaner, cheaper and/or more reliable. Regulators need to step in, which is why our letter asked the MPSC to require utilities to file their plans about how they will try to take advantage of these infrastructure funds.

"We have to ensure that federal funds are spent equitably so that all Michiganders, and particularly those communities that have not received clean energy investment in the past, can benefit,” CUB Executive Director Amy Bandyk said in a statement from the AG released after the order. “Michiganders also need their utilities to take advantage of these funds and submit competitive bids or provide matching funds for others to compete. We applaud the MPSC for issuing this order which will allow the public, the AG and groups like CUB to evaluate the utilities’ plans regarding the federal infrastructure bill."   

The comments from the utilities should address these points in particular, the MPSC said:

  1. Identification of all federal programs, private-public partnerships, grants, loans, contract opportunities, and funding available to public utilities pursuant to the IIJA, as well as an explanation of the actions or processes public utilities must complete to access those opportunities. Comments may also identify additional funding and assistance opportunities available under other new or existing federal programs.
  2. Identification of any entity or federal or state agency with which coordination may be necessary to access the funding and assistance opportunities available in the IIJA.
  3. A description of the actions taken or anticipated to be taken by rate-regulated utilities to access the grants, loans, contract opportunities, funding, and other benefits identified as being available to public utilities pursuant to the IIJA.
  4. An explanation of any actions or considerations the Commission should take to facilitate the state’s public utilities in taking advantage of the funding and assistance opportunities available under the IIJA.
  5. Identification of any actions or considerations required of the Commission by the IIJA, as well as any impact on the Commission’s regulatory authority.
  6. A description of any other impacts of the IIJA relative to the delivery of safe, reliable, and affordable energy as well as investments in and improvements to public utility infrastructure.

We will  give the utilities’ plans a close look once they are filed. The deadline for comments in this case, U-21227, is June 2.