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Say No to DTE on AA Energy Commission!

Ann Arbor for Public Power (A2P2) demands that City Council reject the nomination of Knox Cameron to the Ann Arbor Energy Commission. DTE Energy, Mr. Cameron’s employer, should not have representation on the Energy Commission, which advises City Council on energy matters. There are many reasons for this: 

DTE fossil fuel generation incompatible with A2Zero plan

DTE Energy’s fuel mix (roughly 50 percent coal, 20 percent natural gas, less than 15 percent renewables) is a major obstacle to meeting the A2Zero goal of powering our local grid with 100% renewable energy by 2030.  DTE plans to continue burning coal to make electricity until 2040, and natural gas far past that date.

DTE prevents distributed solar generation

DTE aggressively opposes state legislation expanding renewable energy options for Ann Arbor residents, legislation the city actively supports. The company has also proposed measures that would make rooftop solar a major economic burden on customers. Just a few examples:

  • DTE has consistently opposed HB 4236, which would lift the 1% cap on distributed generation (rooftop solar) in its service area. 
  • DTE opposes HB 4716, which would expand community solar in Michigan.
  • In its recent rate filing at the Michigan Public Service Commission, DTE proposes to cut in half the outflow credit for customers with solar, from 8 cents per kilowatt-hour to 4 cents. This would be a major disincentive for people to install solar panels.
  • In that same filing, DTE proposes placing all residential rooftop solar customers in a new rate class, leading to fees that experts estimate will amount to $100 a month or more. This would put rooftop solar completely out of reach for most residential customers.

DTE Energy advances its legislative positions through direct lobbying, legally disclosed campaign contributions to sympathetic candidates, and by bankrolling dark money-funded campaign groups.

The company’s opposition to distributed generation is designed to discourage customers who want renewables from installing their own solar panels (and eroding DTE’s profits), so that they instead pay into DTE’s expensive MIGreenPower program, bankrolling renewables that increase company profits.

MIGreenPower: false solution, deceptive marketing

Mr. Cameron oversees sales and marketing for the MIGreenPower program. MIGreenPower subscribers pay an additional monthly charge (2.7 cents per kilowatt hour for a wind/solar mix, 1.9 cents/kWh for wind) to offset their consumption of DTE’s fossil fuel-generated electricity. Unlike rooftop solar, there is no payback for customers. Mr. Cameron’s team’s misleading messaging omits the fact that customers continue to pay the same amount to support coal plants after signing up for the program as they did before. Many customers end up believing that subscribing to MIGreenPower results in the delivery of the renewable power to their homes. (It does not.)

Conflict of interest

The city may establish a sustainable energy utility (SEU), which would compete with DTE. It’s also assessing the feasibility of the A2P2 goal of municipalization, the acquisition of DTE’s assets for a city electric utility. The Energy Commission has been the main forum for these discussions. Mr. Cameron, because of his financial conflict of interest, would have to recuse himself from all discussions and votes on these topics. He also could not discuss or vote on city participation in the MIGreenPower program. (His job and salary depend on the expansion of the program.) Banning natural gas in new construction is another issue that would require his recusal. City Council should instead appoint a non-conflicted individual who can participate freely and productively in commission discourse on these critical topics.

Conclusion

Because Knox Cameron’s employer takes positions that are directly opposed to the interests of the city and its residents; because the program he oversees poorly serves customers; and because his participation on Energy Commission would be severely limited due to conflict of interest, City Council must reject this appointment.

3 Comments

  1. The energy commission has sufficient representation from investor owned utilities. DTE thinks people who do energy efficiency are “free riders” who should pay a penalty.

    1. Mark,
      Who is currently on the Commission who “represents” an investor owned utility?

      I totally agree that DTE is a terrible utility and stands in the way of much of what A2Zero is trying to accomplish.
      Previous members of the Commission have always maintained that they were not representing their employer and the Bylaws require them to recuse themselves if they have a conflict of interest with a particular item on the agenda.

      In the 26 years I was on the Commission I did find that members who did work for one of the IOUs could often provide valuable information on subjects related to utility issues. Is it better to have people on the Commission who have very limited knowledge of the subject of energy?

  2. It is important for A2P2 to hold public events to publicize the need for Municipal Power in A2. Power is critical infrastructure that should never be placed in the care of a private investor group. The worst effect of this give-away of necessary infrastructure is the corruption of our public policy decision making bodies (State Legislature, City Councils, etc) who will inevitability become compromised by vested financial interests when it comes to a contradiction between best public policy and the vested financial interest’s concerns. We have seen all too many times that the public interest is sacrificed in favor of the needs of vested financial interests. A municipal electric company is necessary to maintain a functioning democracy that can actually represent and satisfy it’s citizens material needs. DTE robs us of our Democracy by bribing our politicians to act in ways that are antithetical to the public’s long term interests. When critical infrastructure is in the hands of private capital, we are all hostages to it’s whims and caprice. We can be blackmailed and threatened in ways that no foreign power would ever accomplish. We, as citizens, are humiliated and forced into paying the cost to operate and maintain a necessary piece of infrastructure with no effective say in how it operates or behaves. Freedom in practice should mean the right of a community to decide what is best for it, not the “Freedom” for a group of investors to realize a profit at the expense of the public interest.

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