So how should average middle class Michiganders engage in this electricity debate? What should they demand in the 2015 legislation on electricity? Can they prevent the titans from looting their family budgets?
First and foremost, Michiganders should demand an end to hybrid deregulation. All electricity consumers should be under the same regulatory scheme, with equal options to escape. No favoritism. This aligns the interests of politically potent, large electricity consumers with those of the average Michigander. This creates an effective counterbalance to the political power of the utilities; political power purchased with your electricity payments. Even full regulation is preferable to our current hybrid deregulation scheme.
Michiganders should further demand full deregulation of our electricity market. As regulated entities, utilities have a ‘cost plus’ mindset which relentlessly drives prices higher. Regulatory bodies limit themselves to dampening this drive for higher prices, but do not drive efficiencies which would genuinely control energy costs. Competition-driven efficiencies are very important to Michigan’s economy, which still has a significant, energy-intensive industrial base. Also Michigan’s utilities have not demonstrated any special competence operating their electrical power stations, so competition in the supply of electricity will promote best practices there and lower costs as well. Ultimately, a deregulated grid properly managed is more tolerant of supply shocks because more actors will be supplying the electricity.
The RPS should not be renewed at any level. Renewables should not be forcibly subsidized by any ratepayers, overtly or covertly. The current PA 295 regulatory scheme has residential electricity consumers subsidizing renewables through skyrocketing rates, while large consumers escape this burden. As renewable energy sources become cost effective, they will be welcomed by all parties.
If environmental wackos want their own electricity to come from RPS renewables, let them pay the full cost including base load backup costs. Most renewable sources are intermittent and require expensive base load backup capacity for periods where they cannot generate electricity. The Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO) historical record shows that Michigan wind power, by far the most significant current RPS component (883 turbines, about 58% of RPS power), was only available 31.5% of the time (termed ‘capacity factor’) during 2011 and 2012. During two months, July and August of 2011, wind was available only available 16% of the time. Most evaluations of the cost effectiveness of wind and solar generation pointedly neglect the costs of base load backup capacity to keep the lights on. Essentially, wind power capacity has to be backed up by 100% of its rated capacity with fossil-fueled base load capacity to prevent blackouts during zero wind periods, so why bother install wind power (or solar, for that matter) in the first place? Ratepayers subjected to RPS get to pay the capital costs for twice the generating capacity they actually need.