In November 2019, City Council unanimously declared a climate emergency. The resolution outlined the disastrous effects of climate change on our community, including a significant increase in annual temperatures and a 44% increase in annual precipitation in the last 30 years that has led to massive flooding across Washtenaw County and expansive crop failures throughout our state. It also determined that the only way to stop these harmful changes in our climate is to act “immediately to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Despite our city’s alleged commitment to climate action, it was recently announced that Knox Cameron, a representative from DTE (the utility monopoly that sells power to Southeastern Michigan), was nominated to become a voting member of the Ann Arbor Energy Commission (AAEC). City commissions advise City Council on new laws and generally have significant influence on city policy.
Despite national and local goals to reduce the use of fossil fuels, DTE has remained heavily dependent on coal, using about 58% coal in 2021 and less than 10% renewables. DTE is the fourth-dirtiest utility in the entire country by greenhouse gas emissions, and their Monroe coal plant was the fourth-dirtiest power plant in the United States. At the same time, this behemoth fossil fuel corporation is actively funding state politicians that support new voter suppression measures that will make it harder for Black Michiganders to vote.
The result of the millions of dollars that DTE has spent on campaign donations and lobbying is enormous influence in our state and city governments. DTE has wielded its purchased influence in our government to crush proposed environmental regulations and to hinder the ability of residents to put solar panels on their roofs, ensuring the dominance of their fossil fuels in our state. DTE has notably taken aggressive stances against H.B. 4236 and H.B. 4716, which are aimed at expanding distributed and community solar power, respectively.
The individual appointed to the vacant seat on the AAEC must reflect our city’s carbon neutrality commitments made in the A2Zero plan. The major proposed policies that aim to achieve carbon neutrality revolve around reducing our city’s dependence on DTE’s dirty power. This includes the sustainable energy utility, public power and community choice aggregation. Taking this into consideration makes the nomination even more problematic, because the proposals that will be discussed by the Energy Commission are directly against DTE’s interests, and a DTE representative on the Commission could very well hinder the implementation of these important policies.
On top of all of this, the DTE employee nominated is the current leader of the MiGreenPower sales team. MiGreenPower is an optional program that allows DTE consumers to pay more money to support increased investment in renewable energy elsewhere in DTE’s service area. This extremely opaque and ineffective program misleads many to believe that by paying more, they will suddenly be receiving cleaner power in their homes. This is false. Consumers receive the exact same 58% coal power after enrolling in the program while being left with the feeling that they are helping to stop climate change.
There is a word to describe the purpose and effect of voluntary programs like this: greenwashing. The well-respected Ecology Center of Ann Arbor has denounced the MiGreenPower program several times as an effort to greenwash DTE’s massive emissions, and they are not alone in their criticisms of the program. Jason Hayes, the director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, dismissed MiGreenPower as “little more than a green public relations plan.” At the end of the day, no voluntary program will be the solution to climate change and selling ineffective programs like MiGreenPower does far more harm than good.
It’s not too late to stop this nomination. It requires majority support from our City Councilmembers at the July 5 council meeting. I invite you to write an email asking councilmembers to vote no on this confirmation and I urge you to attend the upcoming protest on July 5 outside City Hall at 5:30 p.m. organized by Ann Arbor for Public Power, a local community group that is encouraging our city to legally take over DTE’s infrastructure and establish a public power utility to provide reliable, affordable, clean energy to our city.
If you believe that an undemocratic, coal-powered, mismanaged fossil fuel corporation has no place in our city government, I hope you will join us in stopping this nomination.
Zackariah Farah is a recent University of Michigan alum and current Michigan Medicine employee and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.