Michigan Public Service Commission to retain control over renewable energy permitting

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Citizens for Local Choice argued that “locals have greater insight into what their community needs than the state.” Image: New Energy Equity

Responsibility for awarding permits for new renewable energy projects in the US state of Michigan will remain with the state’s Public Service Commission (MPSC), after a petition to transfer control to local government failed to garner enough signatures.

The petition, put forward by Michigan group Citizens for Local Choice, would have made local governments responsible for the permitting of new solar and wind projects, and was drawn up in response to House Bill 5120.

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This bill gave the pubic service commission the authority to approve large-scale renewables and was passed in November 2023 as part of state governor Gretchen Whitmer’s sweeping energy reforms that made Michigan the first Midwest US state with a net zero target.

Citizens for Local Choice have opposed this bill, arguing that the MPSC is not in a position to effectively judge local affairs, as “locals have greater insight into what their community needs than the state.”

However, the petition failed to earn enough signatures to take effect. In March, more than 6,000 residents of Livingston County in south-east Michigan signed the petition, but this was well short of the more than 350,000 signatures needed by Michigan law to get the issue onto the ballot in November’s elections.

Citizens for Local Choice said that it will work towards getting its petition on the state’s ballot in 2026, potentially setting Michigan up for another few years of debate about renewable energy permitting.

Recently, the MPSC rejected two applications to replace power purchase agreements (PPAs) signed for biomass projects with new deals for solar farms, as the commission looks to manage growing interest in renewable power in Michigan.

The role of permitting is one of growing significance in the US, with around 1TW of solar capacity awaiting grid connection in the US. The MISO grid, to which Michigan is connected, has close to 200GW of solar capacity awaiting connections.

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