A sign that says "Ann Arbor for Public Power" sits on the ground in front of a painted garage at Burns Park.
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Community members gathered at Burns Park Sunday evening to attend a public power festival hosted by Ann Arbor for Public Power (A2P2), a non-profit organization advocating for the city to municipalize its energy utility and replace DTE Energy, the private utility company currently serving Ann Arbor, with a publicly owned energy utility. The Sunday festival featured live music, educational booths and speeches from guest speakers. 

Based on a report by the energy commission, the City Council approved a resolution on Jan. 18 to request a feasibility study and explore options for 100% renewable energy sources. Currently, 90% of DTE’s energy comes from non-renewable sources. 41 towns and cities in Michigan are served by public power utilities.

A2P2 President Greg Woodring spoke on why A2P2 organized the festival in an interview with The Michigan Daily, citing City Council’s approval of the feasibility study as reason to celebrate and continue advocating for public power.

“We have had this campaign for a little over two years by now,” Woodring said. “We’ve gotten a study approved with the city. Today we want to celebrate that success and explain to people that now is the time for public power, that we have a real chance at doing something huge here.”

Lauren Sargent, an A2P2 member and an organizer of Sunday’s festival, told The Daily she believes a municipal energy utility is necessary to make sure the city’s electricity is 100% from renewable sources. 

“There is a method called Community Choice Aggregation that some states have where we could have a choice of where we buy our power and that we could choose to buy power that is generated through 100% renewable energy,” Sargent said. “But that is not legal in Michigan. The other possibility is that we could build our own utility, and we build it and control it … we already have a legal framework for that.”

State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, who has endorsed A2P2’s mission, was one of the festival’s featured speakers.

“What could we do if we did not take our money and send it to Wall Street?” Rabhi said. “What could we do with that money as a community? Well, there’s only one way to find out: making our own municipal utility right here, reclaiming our power and making sure our money is staying in our community and invested in our grid right here at home.”

The festival also featured educational booths to spread awareness about public power and other topics related to sustainability and the environment.

Ernesto Querijero, a Washtenaw Community College faculty member and a trustee at the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education, set up a table where he and his wife gave out free books regarding different energy sources and their environmental impacts. In an interview with The Daily Querijero spoke on their motivation for setting up the booth.

“We know one of the problems oftentimes is access,” Querijero said. “So we try to purchase books that we think about consciously, and then we want to make sure that everybody has access to them. Sometimes we ask people to share them too.”

Rising Public Policy senior Joe Timmer organized a game table with Zackariah Farah, 2022 U-M graduate and A2P2 spokesperson. The two designed trivia questions to educate the public about A2P2 and municipal energy. Timmer said his involvement with A2P2 aligns with his academic interest in energy policy and offers him first-hand insight into local policy making.

“I was made aware of (A2P2) at Festifall in the fall semester and it (sounded) interesting to me,” Timmer said. “I later saw the news about the feasibility study (being) passed, and I thought it was a local way to get involved. We’re trying to find a way beyond just personal decisions to make an influence on our electric grid and climate change in general.”

Festival attendees included both Ann Arbor residents and U-M students such as Rackham student Liam Connolly. Connolly said he took this festival as an opportunity to be informed about local policy initiatives in the area.

“Since I am from out of state, my vote is really going to be important in the local elections here,” Connolly said. “I need to register to vote and get informed before that. The turnout today really reflects the diversity of people who are interested in public power.”

City Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, also attended the festival. In an interview with The Daily, Griswold spoke on how A2P2 could impact the city’s response to climate change and the resources needed to accomplish A2P2’s mission.

“If we’re going to have municipal power, we just need to make sure that there is an oversight board from the city that is ensuring that we have reliable power,” Griswold said. “We have experts overseeing the cleanup of the dioxane plume, and I would like to have a similar group of community experts for electricity, too.”

Moving forward, Woodring said, A2P2 would continue to push the city to be more transparent in the feasibility study and to work on a municipal power ballot initiative in the coming years. 

“We’re hoping that the city will move forward with a transparent process and include us in that process of selecting a contractor,” Woodring said. “We are also coming up with a ballot campaign in the next coming years that would authorize the creation of the utility and tell the city to begin negotiations to buy DTE assets. It’s a tough battle, but it’s a battle we could win.”

Daily Staff Reporter Chen Lyu can be reached at lyuch@umich.edu.