In Michigan – You could choose your own power company under new legislation

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Michigan debates on whether to deregulate the electricity market for homes and businesses, which would empower them to shop for their energy.

Michigan Radio
Contact: Lester Graham

Michigan could deregulate the electricity market, allowing people to choose where they buy electricity.

In downtown Frankenmuth there are two very popular restaurants: the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn and right across the street, Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth. Both are famous for their chicken dinners. And the owners are cousins — both of them are Zehnders.

There is an important difference. One business buys its electricity from the free market, which could include out-of-state power companies. The other pays whatever its Michigan utility company charges.

Michigan has a hybrid system where the legislature decided 10% of all the electricity used in the state could be purchased from the free market. It’s first-come, first-served until the cap is hit. Everybody else must buy power from utility companies in Michigan.

Bill Zehnder owns the Bavarian Inn. He remembers back in 2009 when the Bavarian Inn decided to sign up and then missed out.

“We found out that the cap had been reached. Well, my cousins across the street at Zehnder’s were a little bit more aggressive on that time and they got into it,” he said.

So, for the past few years, Bill Zehnder at the Bavarian Inn has been paying more for electricity than his cousin, Al Zehnder, does at Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth.

“So, here you have a pretty unique situation where we’ve got two businesses very similar to each other, right across the street from each other. And basically, in my mind, the legislators are picking winners and losers and I don’t think that’s the role of our elected officials by any means,” Bill Zehnder said.

Bill Zehnder with the Bavarian Inn is now part of a coalition of businesses, consumers, and trade associations called Energy Choice Now. It wants to lift that 10% cap and deregulate the electricity market.


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