Over 20 members of the Ann Arbor for Public Power (A2P2) protested in front of Larcom City Hall Tuesday night ahead of an Ann Arbor City Council vote to implement a feasibility study in creating a municipal energy utility. The non-profit organization advocates for the city to municipalize its energy utilities, meaning ensuring energy resources are owned and operated on and for the city instead of a private company. 

The organization is supporting the replacement of DTE Energy — the only energy service provider in Ann Arbor — with alternative methods of public power. The city of Ann Arbor has been working with private utilities like DTE to deliver power while pursuing its carbon neutrality plan, which was criticized by the protestors Tuesday night. Seventy percent of DTE’s power is derived from non-renewable sources — specifically from coal. 

AA Public Power was formed last summer after frustrations surrounding multiple DTE power outages throughout Ann Arbor and in the state of Michigan due to thunderstorms. 

LSA senior Zackariah Farah, one of the protest’s lead organizers, explained that switching to public power would allow the city to make improvements in energy resources that DTE does not support. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Farah said the improvements would include resilient infrastructure, use of solar and wind power in Ann Arbor and purchasing power from renewable sources both within and outside the state of Michigan. 

“We’re hoping that under local control, we’re going to be able to do a lot of the things that DTE doesn’t allow us to do, like make sure that our infrastructure is resilient so it doesn’t fail every time the wind blows,” Farah said. “It will allow us to create solar and wind farms right here in Ann Arbor and to purchase selectively power from renewable sources around the state and even outside of the state. So that’s why this group (A2P2) was formed.” 

Farah said the organization has spent a year requesting that the city’s Energy Commission fund and authorize a feasibility study that would provide data on the transition from nonrenewable to renewable power. When the commission met on Dec. 14, they unanimously recommended that City Council approve a feasibility study.

“The University’s buying a lot of dirty power from DTE because there’s no other choice,” Farah said. “DTE is a monopoly.” 

Many U-M student and faculty organizations also joined the protest, including the Graduate Employees’ Organization and members of Central Student Government, who also introduced a resolution for public power on Tuesday night.

LSA freshman Ellie Keessen attended the rally and said she believes establishing community-owned utilities would benefit the community both environmentally and economically. Even though building a community-owned power grid from scratch may take a long time, Keessen told The Daily she thinks it would be worth the effort. 

“I think the (Ann Arbor) municipal decision of power is the most important way to achieve the A2ZERO plan (Ann Arbor’s plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030),” Keessen said. “Community-owned power grids could offer union jobs, bring money to the community, and control where to source our power from.”

Ann Arbor resident Lauren Sargent, one of the rally organizers, shared her thoughts in an interview with The Daily. Community-owned utilities, as opposed to private investments, are the only way to achieve carbon neutrality, Sargent said.

“DTE has no climate goal, “ Sargent said. “They are committed to shareholders value, but we are committed to renewable energy … It has already been working in 41 cities and towns in Michigan.”

Ann Arbor for Public Power has collected over 1300 petition signatures from residents who want a feasibility study. The Ann Arbor City Council unanimously passed the resolution advocating for the feasibility study Tuesday. 

Daily staff reporters Nirali Patel and Chen Lyu can be reached at nirpat@umich.edu and lyuch@umich.edu.