The Ann Arbor City Council approved a feasibility study on renewable energy options for the city on Sept. 7, energizing the Ann Arbor for Public Power (A2P2) movement as they ramp up efforts to garner public support. The feasibility study will examine three pathways toward renewable energy: tax credits and other economic incentives, a full municipal energy utility and a partial municipal energy utility.
A2P2 is a coalition of local organizations advocating for the city to take control of its energy utility, currently owned and operated by the Detroit-based energy company DTE, and transfer the city to 100% renewable energy.
A2P2 President Greg Woodring said the organization knew they would need to start with a feasibility study, but now that the study has been approved, they are shifting their efforts to canvassing for public support.
“We pretty quickly identified the first step was to get a feasibility study,” Woodring said. “We advocated over the next year for the city to conduct such a feasibility study, we collected 1300 signatures, we attended several Energy Commission meetings and city council meetings (and) did a lot of research. … So now we’re at the point of needing to advocate to the general public to continue to educate them about the benefits of equalization and public power generally.”
U-M alum Zackariah Farah, spokesperson for A2P2, said the organization has been engaged in various forms of public outreach to raise support for a publicly-owned energy utility.
“Right now, we’re trying to build overwhelming public support in our community for this idea, for taking control of the utility and making it a public one,” Farah said. “That involves knocking doors (and) holding educational events. We have meet and greets as well where anybody can come and ask us any question they want.”
Farah said he has received a great deal of community support and observed a willingness to learn more about the initiative while canvassing.
“People are really really upset that their power consistently goes out, that it’s very expensive and that it’s extremely dirty,” Farah said. “Overall, the response has been really positive. People often have a few questions, and at the end of it, more often than not, they think this is the sensible thing to do.”
Nearly 60% of DTE’s energy supply comes from coal, while around 10% comes from renewable sources like wind, solar and biofuel. Another 23% of DTE’s power comes from nuclear energy, which does not emit carbon but does generate radioactive waste, something opponents say disqualifies it from being considered a “clean” power source.
Woodring said he believes people respond positively to their initiative because it forces private companies to take accountability for the issues they have generated.
“What is really convincing to a lot of people about our campaign is that we’re not asking for ordinary working-class people to make sacrifices in order to transition to a sustainable world,” Woodring said. “Instead, we’re putting the cost directly on the people who are most responsible for the problem, which is the investor-owned utilities.”
Music, Theater & Dance senior Juan Gonzalez Valdivieso said he believes A2P2 provides a tangible path forward for people who want to help mitigate the climate crisis.
“A lot of times with how big of an issue the climate crisis is a lot of people feel like ‘Okay, so what do I do about it?’” Valdivieso said. “But with A2P2, it gives you a way to act tangibly in your own community, and you know that if it succeeds, that’s going to make a difference.”
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said he is focused on Ann Arbor’s overarching A2Zero plan, which aims to reach citywide carbon neutrality by 2030 and hopes to collaborate with organizations such as A2P2 to work toward a more sustainable Ann Arbor. However, Taylor said he also recognizes Ann Arbor’s current reliance on DTE’s infrastructure.
“My goal is to achieve community-wide carbon neutrality by the year 2030, and I am just so excited to work with all community groups who are focused towards that goal,” Taylor said. “DTE is not an active partner in that, and I recognize that. At the same time, they are also the on-the-ground reality.”
Taylor said he looks forward to the feasibility study and is eager to learn about the best pathway toward renewable energy, whether or not that is a fully municipal power grid.
Valdivieso said A2P2 was excluded from participating in this year’s Green Fair, an Oct. 7 event in downtown Ann Arbor featuring University and Ann Arbor-based climate organizations.
“DTE, who is the energy utility that currently has a monopoly over Ann Arbor’s grid, also will not be attending, but more so out of choice than out of exclusion,” Valdivieso said. “There’s been a lot of difficulty in terms of legitimacy and making Ann Arbor for Public Power’s voice heard in as many areas as possible.”
Despite this setback, A2P2 is still working to promote renewable energy in the city of Ann Arbor. Valdivieso is also a member of the U-M chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), which will be in attendance at the Green Fair. Valdivieso said YDSA will include literature on A2P2 at their booth to further educate the public, even in the absence of an official A2P2 booth at the fair.
Woodring said the organization’s next step will be creating a ballot initiative that, if passed, would require that the city purchase DTE’s energy infrastructure with the plan of adapting it to be 100% renewable later on.
“We’re not currently in a position to announce officially when we’re going to take to the ballot, but we’re hoping within the next year or two,” Woodring said. “(We would take) a city charter amendment to the ballot that would establish the governance structure and compel the city to create a municipal utility and begin the process of acquiring DTE’s assets.”
Woodring said the process of negotiating on the price of DTE’s infrastructure would likely take around a year to complete and would include court proceedings. Following an agreement on the price of the assets between DTE and the city, the public would vote on the initiative once again. With a 60% majority, Ann Arbor would officially own its energy utility and could begin the transition to renewable power sources.
This November’s Community Climate Action Millage ballot initiative will allow Ann Arbor voters to decide whether to increase funding toward the city’s A2Zero plan by increasing the one-mill amount to $125 for the next 20 years. Taylor said passing this initiative would greatly increase Ann Arbor’s ability to achieve its A2Zero goals and hopes the community will get out the vote for this proposal.
“We have a multi-strategy plan in order to utilize clean, renewable energy in the city to move towards zero-waste, to improve energy efficiency, to improve cost of comfort, to improve resilience, the all of course, through an unyielding lens of equity,” Taylor said. “This is the core of the A2Zero plan. And I believe that we can accomplish it if this community, and this includes student voters, pass the community climate action millage that we have on the ballot this November.”
Update 10/7: This article has been updated to include additional information regarding nuclear power.
Daily Staff Reporter Samantha Rich can be reached at email@example.com
Bailey Onixt contributed to the reporting of this article.