Whitmer Approves Clean Energy Package to Transform Michigan into a Carbon-Free State by 2040


Paul Sancya

   Gov. Gretchen Whitmer enacted an extensive clean energy legislation on Tuesday, positioning Michigan as the second pivotal state committed to achieving 100% carbon neutrality by 2040. While climate advocates widely praised this move, certain environmental justice groups criticized the Clean Energy and Jobs Act.

This legislative package encompasses various bills aiming to enhance the state's energy efficiency standards and streamline the authorization procedures for solar and wind initiatives. It also mandates that state utilities transition all electricity sales to sustainable sources by 2040.

Michigan has witnessed a notable surge in sustainable endeavours, with clean energy and transportation jobs experiencing an estimated 5% growth last year. Governor Whitmer asserted that the state's newly adopted clean energy measures will contribute to the creation of over 160,000 additional jobs, further boosting Michigan's burgeoning green economy.

Before signing the bills into law in Detroit, Whitmer articulated, “We will make American energy with American workers earning family-sustaining wages”

In a state ranking 10th in national carbon emissions, these bills represent a significant stride toward rectifying decades of environmental negligence, according to Courtney Bourgoin, a policy and advocacy manager at Evergreen Action, an environmental nonprofit.

Over 20 states, including California, Louisiana, and New York, have embraced carbon-free targets intending to eliminate or offset emissions over the next two decades. More stringent goals from states and territories like Rhode Island, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia demand a complete transition of their electricity sectors to renewable sources such as wind, solar, and hydropower.

Michigan's 100% clean energy objective, outlined in Senate Bill 271, directs state utilities to shift 60% of electricity generation to renewables. The remaining 40% allows for the inclusion of energy sources like nuclear power, hydrogen fuel, and natural gas, provided they incorporate carbon capture.

Critics within the environmental justice sphere raised concerns about the bill's acceptance of fossil fuels as clean energy and questioned the efficiency and high cost of carbon capture technology. In October, a coalition of three Michigan-based nonprofits published a letter condemning the legislation for its failure to “adequately reduce greenhouse gas emissions while bringing more pollution to Black, Brown, Indigenous and poor communities.”

Juan Jhong-Chung, co-executive director of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, contended that carbon capture technology fails to address air pollution linked to burning natural gas. He emphasized that the burden of local pollution disproportionately affects vulnerable communities residing closest to power plants, often located in Michigan's economically challenged neighborhoods.

Jhong-Chung commented, “What the bill does is actually redefine what counts as clean energy. It's repackaging natural gas as a clean energy source. To us, 100% clean energy by 2040 is not going to be 100% clean.”

Ben Dueweke, director of community partnerships at Walker-Miller Energy Services, a Michigan-based energy efficiency consulting company, echoed apprehensions regarding the incorporation of carbon capture in the energy package. Despite this, he acknowledged the bills as a triumph for Michigan, positioning the state as a leader in U.S. climate action while reclaiming its reputation as an exporter of American goods and services.

“I would have loved to see a 100% renewable standard,” Dueweke expressed. “But Michigan has historically struggled to pass progressive clean energy legislation. The fact that we have this mandate is an incredible victory.”