BenStaceyGuest Blogger: Ben Stacey, MS (Sustainable Systems), MUP (Housing and Economic Development) ’19 (Energy Policy Analyst Intern at Ecoworks Detroit)

14925288_10153913106440846_6587764187860930121_nAs an Energy Policy Analyst intern with Ecoworks Detroit this summer, my work aimed to advance equitable outcomes of Michigan’s energy efficiency policy, known as the “Energy Waste Reduction Act.”  As a community leader since 1981, Ecoworks Detroit has provided service at the intersection of development and sustainability with an emphasis on affordable and efficient energy.  During this time, Michigan passed the Energy Optimization Act (2008) and Energy Waste Reduction Act (2016), presenting an enormous opportunity to achieve greater social benefits for households facing energy poverty.

While renewable energy oftentimes reaches news headlines, energy efficiency plays an integral role in the path towards a prosperous energy future. Many states acknowledge the following key benefits in their policies:

  • Grid savings: constructing new power plants to generate power, particularly during peak demand, is expensive for consumers. Reducing demand through energy efficiency programs is proven more cost-effective.
  • Household savings: Consumers can save substantially on their home energy bills. Commercial business and industry also realize financially beneficial outcomes.
  • Environmental health: Reduced energy demand means elimination of corresponding emissions. This improves air quality and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the guidance of Ecoworks, I took the opportunity to develop an immersive internship, diving into Michigan’s Energy Waste Reduction Act.  Through the summer, I participated in key processes and engaged with major players in the regulation and implementation of the state policy.  This included EWR Collaborative meetings with the Michigan Public Service Commission, utility companies, stakeholder groups, and energy consulting firms that steer policy implementation.  I also participated in stakeholder coalition meetings with groups such as the Natural Resource Defense Council, National Housing Trust, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Michigan Environmental Council, and others.  Further, my research covered thousands Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 11.29.09 AMof pages of documents including commission orders and annual filings from Michigan’s major utility companies, white papers, and more.  This provided the foundation for recommendations which I provided to stakeholder groups and analyses contained in the final report.

Regulatory reports show that in 2016 alone, Michigan consumers spent $262 million in energy efficiency programs that resulted in a total savings of over $1.08 billion, however, benefits across socioeconomic groups are undifferentiated and go unregulated.  While programs exist that target “Low Income” residents, the investment and potential impact of these programs are of the utmost importance for advocacy groups representing the 35% of Michiganders who qualify as low income (earning < 200% of the federal poverty level).

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The report produced during this internship contains an analysis from the perspective of distributional justice, quantifying the gaps in investment and energy savings benefits between low- and high-income Michiganders over the course of the policy’s implementation (2009-2016).  While this report focused on distributional justice, the internship provided insight as to the recognition, procedural and corrective barriers that inhibit a more equitable energy future for Michigan residents.

Maps below illustrate the distribution of low-income consumers in Michigan’s largest electric utility providers.

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