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Fast Five: An Interview with Chairman Sally Talberg of the Michigan Public Service Commission

We sat down with Michigan Public Service Commission Chairman Sally Talberg to discuss the impact of the NARUC-NASEO Comprehensive Electricity Planning Task Force.

1. The NARUC-NASEO Comprehensive Electricity Planning Task Force is comprised of 16 State Members. Why was your state selected?

Michigan is undergoing an evolution that is changing the energy landscape ever more quickly. Effective planning approaches and tools are critical as we modernize the aging electric distribution system and replace retiring generating units with new energy resources such as solar, wind, energy storage, and programs for customers to reduce energy demand. The electrification of the transportation sector could also have profound impacts on energy use patterns and system needs. Michigan is provided the unique opportunity through its participation in the Task Force to advance energy planning approaches and better integrate existing distribution and resource planning initiatives. Working with fellow Task Force members and other stakeholders, we hope to optimize the integration of new energy technologies, support state policy priorities, and increase the transparency of grid-related planning and investment decisions.

2. How can greater alignment of resource and distribution system planning help states and utilities improve grid reliability and resilience?

Traditional utility distribution system planning has been based on conventional utility generation portfolios consisting of mostly large baseload plants. As smaller-scale distributed energy resource deployment continues to grow, it can affect utility operations and regulatory planning. In Michigan, we currently have separate processes for IRPs and distribution planning by utilities. It is imperative that resources and distribution systems are planned in a holistic manner to optimize investments, and ensure low-cost, reliable solutions that can adapt to industry change and customer behavior. Coordinated planning among regulators, utilities, and stakeholders will also improve resiliency by vetting investment strategies under various system conditions such as changes in resource mix, customer engagement, and extreme weather events.

3. What are some of the core issues facing this new Task Force?

The purpose of the Task Force is to develop new pathways for aligning electricity resource and distribution planning to meet the needs of states. As utilities are poised to make nearly $1 trillion in capital investments over the next 10 years across the nation, state commissions and energy offices are working through grid interconnection and market rules as well as the roles of utility and distributed energy resources.

4. How does your involvement with the Task Force help with your work as Chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission?

At the initiative’s conclusion, Task Force participants will outline state-specific action plans to better align their state’s planning processes. Here in Michigan, my colleagues on the Commission and I are facing a quickly changing energy landscape. Our state’s electric utilities have committed to increasing their use of renewable energy and cutting carbon emissions. The electric and natural gas infrastructure in our state needs significant investment. We’re expanding demand response and energy waste reduction programs, moving ahead with utility electric vehicle pilot programs, and updating interconnection standards to integrate solar, energy storage, and microgrids into the system. Our involvement on the Task Force will help our state to navigate these evolutionary forces.

5. How can comprehensive electricity planning support state policy priorities?

Having better tools and processes to evaluate capital investments and non-wires alternatives in a transparent, holistic manner will help to optimize investments and minimize cost and risk to ratepayers. The goal is to provide customers with greater reliability through a stronger electric grid, avoid unnecessary costs to customers by ensuring capital investments are planned and executed in an efficient manner, and to satisfy consumer preferences as technologies evolve.