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Should Ann Arbor create its own municipal energy utility? Report released, public discussion set

Aerial view of Ann Arbor's Southside. (Oxford Companies)

ANN ARBOR – The City of Ann Arbor has released a new report that explores the possibility of launching a Sustainable Energy Utility for residents and business owners to supplement their DTE service with renewable, locally sourced and cost-effective energy.

The report was prepared by staff from Ann Arbor’s Office of Sustainability and Innovations and five technical advisors.

Under the tagline “built by the community for the community,” the report’s authors envision a 100% local, renewably powered, shared, reliable and publicly-owned city energy utility.

“I am excited that we have identified a promising and speedy path that can advance the city’s energy and climate goals,” Missy Stults, the city’s sustainability and innovations director said in a statement. “Our residents have told us they want cleaner, more affordable energy options that provide better reliability. A SEU has the potential to let Ann Arbor immediately begin meeting those needs.”

A public discussion on the topic has been scheduled on Oct. 28 at 6 p.m. Find more details about the event here.

According to the report, the Ann Arbor SEU would utilize new technical capabilities to meet the energy needs residents by providing energy storage systems, solar and executing energy waste reduction programs.

“New technologies -- advancements in solar and energy storage systems, along with district geothermal and power electronics -- have given communities more options when it comes to providing energy services,” Douglas Jester of 5 Lakes Energy, one of the report’s authors, said in a statement. “In the past, it was rarely economically or technically feasible for a community to offer energy services if their residents and businesses were already customers of an existing utility. That has changed.”

The report also explains how the service could help the city transition to Ann Arbor City Council’s carbon neutrality goal by 2030, and how the “SEU aligns with a series of energy criteria and principals adopted by the city’s Energy and Environmental commissions, and City Council.”

“A SEU is both novel and tested,” Henry Love of Elevate, another of the report’s authors, said in a statement. “Communities such as Holland and Traverse City -- even Consumers Energy -- offer many of the programs that Ann Arbor’s SEU could provide; and the District of Columbia and Delaware have versions of an SEU the city has already, and can continue to, learn from.”

Attorney with Rivenoak Law Group and former head of the Michigan Agency for Energy, Valerie Brader, called the Ann Arbor SEU a municipal utility with a “singular focus on local infrastructure” that would allow residents and businesses the flexibility to supplement their DTE service with clean, local energy choices.

The report’s authors spent months researching and exploring the topic of a municipal energy utility.

“The creation of the Ann Arbor SEU would make us an epicenter for energy innovation, create good local jobs, provide access to financing, and make clean energy technology available to all residents,” Greg Bolino with DG Reimagined, a report author, said in a statement. “It will advance reliable, resilient, clean and affordable energy for everyone.”

In late August, Ann Arbor City Councilmember Elizabeth Nelson (D-Ward 4), proposed a study into creating a nonprofit utility service after tens of thousands were left without power following severe summer storms. Nelson’s proposal is separate from the Ann Arbor SEU effort.

“We’re sending the message that we have options, we aren’t hostages to DTE,” Nelson told Local 4.

The situation was so dire in mid-August -- with some residents losing power for days -- that the city set up an emergency relief station at Pioneer High School. The station allowed residents to cool off, charge devices and enjoy water and light snacks. One city official told A4 at the time they were surprised to see so many people turn out to utilize the space.

According to the report, City Council would have to pass an ordinance to establish an SEU that would emphasize the utility’s role in meeting A2ZERO’s goal of achieving 100% renewable energy within the next nine years.

To read the full report, visit www.a2gov.org/a2seu.


About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.