Special Round Table Edition
February 28, 2022

Ann Arbor for Public Power held its first public Round Table on Thursday, February 17, 2022. Our guest panelists answered questions from the moderator and from the audience about the need for a municipal electric utility, a “muni,” in Ann Arbor, and outlined the path forward.

Round Table participants: Thank you!

Our panelists were Jeff Irwin, Michigan State Senator, District 18; Chris Bzdok, Energy and Environmental lawyer in Traverse City, Michigan, and former Traverse City mayor; Desirae Simmons, Co-Chair, Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice (ICPJ); Sean McBrearty, Michigan Policy Director of Clean Water Action; Liz Ratzloff, Co-Chair of the Huron Valley Area Labor Federation (HVALF) Climate Council; and Yousef Rabhi, Michigan State Representative, District 53.

If you missed the live event, watch it on our website, or on Youtube!

Round Table highlights:


‘Cheaper, cleaner, more reliable’: Panelists discuss push to replace DTE


Ann Arbor, Michigan - On Thursday night, February 17, 2022, local leaders and experts in sustainability, energy, and labor met to discuss the potential for public power in Ann Arbor. The event was the first of an ongoing series of round tables hosted by the organization Ann Arbor for Public Power. 


The fundamental question of the night was whether Ann Arbor should replace DTE with a public energy utility. “Yes. Is that good? Should I go on mute now?” joked Desirae Simmons, Co-Director of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice. 


“When we look at communities that have public power, power systems that are accountable to their voters and their people, they get power that is cheaper, that is cleaner, and that is more reliable,” added State Senator Jeff Irwin.


The panelists were asked what issues we’re facing with DTE and why Ann Arbor would want to create a municipal utility. “DTE is currently the third dirtiest major utility in the country,” said Liz Ratzloff, Co-Chair of the Huron Valley Area Labor Federation Climate Council. “[DTE] plans to keep coal online for too long and ignores the carbon emissions caused by burning natural gas…People living in low-income communities and communities of color bear the brunt of the current plan both with high energy bills and with exposure to pollution.” 


Ratzloff also spoke to reliability concerns. “Michigan has among the country’s least reliable electric grids in terms of frequency and length of outages,” she said. Ratzloff attributes these outages to DTE’s “‘replace it when it breaks’ approach to upgrading infrastructure.”


Chris Bzdok, an energy and environmental lawyer and former mayor of Traverse City, argued that municipal utilities are cheaper, more reliable, greener, and provide pride of ownership. 


“I've been on Traverse City Light & Power for 24 years. I've experienced one outage longer than eight hours in 24 years,” he said.  


State Representative Yousef Rabhi described how Michigan’s utilities evade accountability for outages and pollution. “The fundamental problem that exists with DTE (and Consumers) today is that we say these are regulated utilities but that is the greatest misnomer that could be,” he said. 


“When you see the power and influence that they have over legislators, and over what legislation gets to move and what legislation doesn't, I can tell you from firsthand personal experience they are the regulators.”


Rep. Rabhi described how a muni could offer cost savings to Ann Arbor. “You have to remember that DTE and Consumers have basically a guaranteed 10 percent profit margin,” Representative Rabhi pointed out, claiming that the lack of profit margin is “a cost efficiency that municipal utilities have.”  


Sean McBrearty, Michigan Legislative Director for Clean Water Action, described how Lansing’s municipal utility responded to a winter storm in 2013-14. “That winter there was a big ice storm that knocked out power for over 40k Lansing households,” he said. 


Afterward, he explained that Lansing residents were able to exert influence over the utility and hold it accountable. “There was a huge public process in Lansing to hold the [Board of Water and Light] accountable and they wound up doing a big year-long review process with a public commission appointed to review their protocols,” he continued. “They made over a hundred distinct protocol changes, and we haven't had any issues like that since.”


Community members in attendance asked panelists about who would staff a municipal utility if Ann Arbor created one. 


“A sustainable energy transition has to be a just transition for workers and communities,” Ratzloff said. “Locally, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 17, represents 3600 members who are linemen and women, tree trimmers, et cetera, and many of them work for DTE, either as employees or contractors. So, we have to make sure that whatever plan we have includes good jobs for those workers and the workers that we’ll need to move to a sustainable energy plan.”


Other speakers discussed how Ann Arbor municipalizing could have effects on other communities DTE serves. “One of the things I think about for a smaller community like Ypsi, I wonder about how it could help us to do something similar,” Desirae Simmons said.


The city of Ann Arbor recently approved a resolution to explore multiple potential pathways to reach its 2030 100% renewable energy goals. The resolution called on the city to commission a feasibility study into full municipalization in addition to beginning work on a sustainable energy utility (SEU). 


While some see these two plans as alternatives to one another, Senator Jeff Irwin disagreed. “I see the SEU as a bridge to full municipalization, he stated. “It’s a way of working towards that goal more quickly by implementing meaningful steps that get us there.”


Traverse City’s Bzdok described the roadmap to create a municipal electric utility. 


First, Ann Arbor would do a feasibility study and calculate the value of DTE’s infrastructure, he said. Then the city would hold an election to decide whether to acquire the assets, and if it passed, the city would then decide to either purchase or condemn DTE’s electric lines or build new ones. Next, the city would seek regulatory approval.


The utility would make money for the city, Bzdok stressed. “It’s a solid business. It’s a very stable, very low risk business compared with almost any other, and it’s a long-term business, so it’s financeable,” he noted. Then the city would get a franchise, set electric rates, and complete last steps with the Michigan Public Service Commission.

“There is a roadmap,” Bzdok concluded. “This is in the state constitution. It’s in state statute. It’s not a novel idea. It’s fundamental to the government of the State of Michigan that you can do this.”

In the past and in the future


On January 18 the Ann Arbor City Council voted unanimously to authorize a municipal electric utility feasibility study. The study will also evaluate other possible ways for obtaining 100% renewable power by 2030, as well analyze customer rates for a possible Sustainable Energy Utility, a municipal utility that would exist alongside DTE. An RFP (Request for Proposal) will be written and ready to go out to bid by May.

In the meantime, we are educating ourselves and the broader public on municipalization. Our series of Round Tables will bring in experts from munis in other Michigan cities, as well as around the country. We’re tentatively hoping for Round Table #2 at the end of March.

Welcome, Volunteers!

To get involved, contact us at Let us know how you can help. For example, you can put up one of our handsome new yard signs on your lawn. For the more ambitious, we’ll be spreading the word about our muni in door-to-door canvassing or through social media. When we sponsor a public event, you can help us talk about our campaign with those who attend. Or if you have a special skill, let us know. We welcome all to our team of volunteers!

Join our Discord

Want to join the fight for energy justice and democracy in Ann Arbor? Join the discussion in Ann Arbor for Public Power's Discord server! Our Discord server has up-to-date information about our plans and events. To join, send an email to with "Discord" in the subject line and we'll send you an invite!

The situation in Ukraine

We lament Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and a war that has already claimed many lives. Our sympathies are with the Ukrainian people as they suffer from the senseless violence of armed conflict. We are inspired by their courage in standing up to the Russian military’s invasion.


In the meantime

We’re proud to be doing our part in Ann Arbor in fighting against the use of fossil fuels and for the power of the people to control their own municipal electric utility. We welcome you to join us, if you’d like to help! Please check out our website at or contact us directly at!  

And look for coming information about Round Table #2, hopefully in March, in the next Newsletter!

Have questions, concerns, or just want to say hi? Reach out to A2P2 at!
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