Hearings and talk about possible energy policy reform have begun in the Michigan Legislature, with a major energy policy address expected from Gov. Rick Snyder this month.

In his January 2015 State of the State address, Snyder said he will put a strong focus on cleaner energy. “If we don’t have new policies in place and implemented, decisions will be made for us in Washington, D.C., and we won’t like them. As such, I am reorganizing my administration to put under a single roof the key players in our energy policy in a new Agency for Energy.”

Michigan’s policy needs to be a state-driven plan, Snyder explained, to make sure we have enough energy in the right places and a system that stands upon reliability, affordability, and a protected environment.

Specifically, Snyder is looking at a long-term transition away from coal, focusing on natural gas and wind production as viable options, and noted that 2015 will be a year full of environmental policy debate as the state’s renewable energy standard of 10 percent by 2015 is set to expire.

From an electric co-op/utility perspective, Craig Borr, CEO of the Michigan Electric Cooperative Association (MECA), reports that Aric Nesbitt, House Energy Committee chairman, has already held a hearing where Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy reps provided their input on the capacity shortage predicted by the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO). MISO predicts a 3,000 MW shortfall for the Lower Peninsula as early as 2016. Electrical demand in the Lower Peninsula typically exceeds 20,000 MW in the summer months. Hearings have not started yet in the Senate, where Energy & Technology chairman Mike Nofs is expected to ramp up his committee’s work shortly after the governor’s energy address.

MECA also expects considerable discussion on the Energy Optimization (EO) program and standards, and possible changes to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). “I expect changes in both of these areas will center around ensuring that efforts by Michigan utilities in both of these areas since 2008, and future efforts, we will likely undertake in renewables and energy optimization, will afford the flexibility needed to meet the EPA’s proposed Greenhouse Gas rules.”

Proposed EPA rules call for all states to reduce their GHG emissions by 30 percent by 2020, with EO and renewables as two of the main building blocks that all electric utilities will need to employ to meet such a stringent target.

Energy concerns are Snyder’s second priority after his goal of linking talent with available jobs in Michigan. “There are things we can do today that benefit us right now and pay dividends tomorrow, no matter what the future holds,” he said. “It’s all about adaptability — the sort of wisdom that will serve our state well when it comes to enacting new energy policies and protecting our environment.”

Other issues Snyder will target this year (visit his State of the State dashboard) include fixing crumbling roads and bridges, reinventing government, improving education with special focus on skilled trades, more and better jobs, preventing substance abuse, and continuing efforts to prevent invasive species from entering the Great Lakes.