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Whitmer signs package to push Michigan to 100% clean energy by 2040

More than 20 states, including California, Louisiana and New York, have adopted energy targets that aim to eliminate or offset emissions over the next two decades.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a rally in Detroit on Sept. 15. Paul Sancya / AP file

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a sweeping clean energy package Tuesday that would make Michigan the second swing state to go 100% clean energy by 2040, a move widely applauded by climate advocates but criticized by some environmental justice groups.

The Clean Energy and Jobs Act includes several bills that would improve state energy efficiency requirements and streamline permitting processes for solar and wind projects. It would also mandate that state utilities shift 100% of electricity sales to clean energy sources by 2040.

Michigan has recently seen a boost in sustainable work, with an estimated 5% growth in clean energy and transportation jobs last year. Whitmer said the state’s new clean energy package will add over 160,000 more clean jobs to Michigan’s expanding green economy.

“We will make American energy with American workers earning family-sustaining wages,” Whitmer said before signing the bills into law in Detroit on Tuesday. 

In a state that ranks 10th in carbon emissions nationally, the bills are an important step in reversing decades of environmental neglect, said Courtney Bourgoin, a policy and advocacy manager at Evergreen Action, an environmental nonprofit group.

More than 20 states, including California, Louisiana and New York, have adopted clean energy targets that aim to eliminate or offset emissions over the next two decades. More rigorous targets from states and territories, including Rhode Island, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, require their electricity sectors to transition completely to renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and hydropower. 

Michigan’s 100% clean energy target, defined by Senate Bill 271, directs state utilities to transition 60% of electricity generation to renewables. Energy sources such as nuclear power, hydrogen fuel and natural gas coupled with carbon capture are allowed to count toward the remaining 40%.

Some environmental justice advocates took issue with the bill for allowing fossil fuels to qualify as clean energy and criticized carbon capture technology for its inefficiency and high cost. In October, a coalition of three Michigan-based nonprofit groups published a letter condemning the package for failing to “adequately reduce greenhouse gas emissions while bringing more pollution to Black, Brown, Indigenous and poor communities.”

Juan Jhong-Chung, co-executive director of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, said that carbon capture technology does not address air pollution associated with burning natural gas, adding that the burden of local pollution usually falls on vulnerable communities living closest to power plants, which are often located in Michigan’s poorest neighborhoods.

“What the bill does is actually redefine what counts as clean energy,” Jhong-Chung said. “It’s repackaging natural gas as a clean energy source. To us, 100% clean energy by 2040 is not going to be 100% clean.”

Ben Dueweke, director of community partnerships at Walker-Miller Energy Services, a Michigan-based energy efficiency consulting company, echoed concerns over the inclusion of carbon capture in the energy package. But he said the bills were a win for Michigan to lead on climate action in the U.S. while regaining its reputation as an exporter of American goods and services.

“I would have loved to see a 100% renewable standard,” Dueweke said. “But Michigan has historically struggled to pass progressive clean energy legislation. The fact that we have this mandate is an incredible victory.”