The state Senate is one step closer to confirming Gov. Rick Snyder’s appointment of a former Consumers Energy lobbyist to a panel that regulates utilities.
The state Senate Energy and Technology Committee signed off on the appointment of Norm Saari to the Michigan Public Service Commission during an advice and consent hearing on Thursday. The Senate Government Operations Committee and the full Senate are expected to follow suit.
Saari told the legislative panel that he no longer has any financial connection to Consumers.
“I have no pension from Consumers Energy. I have no retiree healthcare from Consumers Energy. I have no life insurance from Consumers Energy. I don’t get a senior citizen discount on my energy bills and I pay for my light bulbs,” he said.
“I have no financial interest in any of the organizations that I will be part of regulating.”
But critics of the appointment say his background still creates a conflict of interest. They say it should disqualify him from the job.
Saari most recently served as chief of staff to state House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) and former speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall).
Because of his former role, lawmakers on the panel quizzed Saari on what role – if any – he played in a recent scandal. Some Democrats charge that he may have ignored evidence that state Rep. Todd Courser (R-Lapeer) used state resources to cover up his affair with state Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell).
Saari told reporters that he believes he addressed the situation appropriately. But he declined to comment further on the scandal in front of the Senate panel.
“I do have a meeting scheduled next week with the House Business Office as part of their investigation,” he said. “And I feel an obligation to communicate through the investigation before I make any other public comments.”
An 80 year old program that’s dedicated to funding rural energy cooperatives is sending 25 million dollars to Michigan’s Thumb.
Every year the USDA parcels out loans to energy cooperatives in order to strengthen rural infrastructure.
This year the USDA is giving out roughly $100 million. A quarter of that money is going to the Thumb Electric Cooperative of Michigan.
The Coop’s General Manager Dallas Braun says the money will help them implement a new monitoring system.
“Currently our members read their own meters every month, submit a reading to us and then we bill them based on the reading. So the AMI system or the Smart Grid system will allow us to become more efficient and save a lot of money.”
Braun says one of the big advantages of a coop is that the money they save goes back to their members.
Winter’s icy grip may have melted, but at one mid Michigan college, the ice is just starting to take hold on campus.
Delta College, in Bay County, uses a thermal energy storage system to keep campus cool.
Delta buys electricity at night and on weekends when power is cheaper. It stores the energy in the form of 8-foot by 8-foot ice blocks. Then during the day when prices are higher, the melting ice cools campus buildings. Continue reading →
The state says its bi-annual energy appraisal shows that residents will have a bit more money in their pockets this Winter.
Judy Palnau is a media specialist with the Michigan Public Service Commission. She says although unit price has risen for natural gas users, overall they should be paying less.
“Bills will be going down despite the fact that natural gas prices per unit are expected to be up. Last year was actually the reverse. We were paying an 11-year low per unit of natural gas, but because we were using so much more of it to keep warm, many people saw their bills actually go up, despite the lower price.”
Palnau says the estimate is based on the assumption that Michigan will have a return to normal winter weather this year.
We spoke to the National Weather Service office in Gaylord. Their meteorologists say Michigan will likely see a slightly colder than normal winter, however it will be nowhere near as cold as last year’s Polar Vortex.
The MPSC says even if Michigan has another remarkably cold Winter, there is enough energy stored to avoid a crisis.