In a state where more than 80 percent of voters say they want more solar energy, why is it that Michigan ranks 32nd in the nation for installed solar capacity? It’s not the weather – even Minnesota has seven times more installed solar power than Michigan. And it’s not lack of demand for cheaper energy – Michigan electric utility rates are among the highest in the nation.
The problem is that Michigan’s utilities are blocking solar deployment and unfortunately, Michigan utility regulators have been complicit. That is why Vote Solar is supporting the bipartisan Energy Freedom bills introduced this week by Michigan legislators.Solar power could benefit Michigan in three key ways.
First, it can reduce electric costs. Over the last eight years we’ve seen an 80 percent reduction in the cost of electricity from the sun. With zero fuel costs, we are now at the point where solar power is less expensive than power from fossil-fueled power plants.
Second, the solar industry is creating jobs and driving economic development in communities across the nation. Michigan solar companies already employ more than 4,000 people and this industry has room to grow substantially.
Finally, solar power benefits public health by not contributing to the pollution created at every step in the fossil fuel process – from the extraction wells and mines through the pipelines and at the smokestack.
While Michigan utilities have built a handful of solar projects in recent years, they are putting up roadblocks to independent solar development which could bring solar solutions to many more households and businesses across the state. When anyone – businesses, churches, households – install rooftop solar, they are simply less dependent on the utility for energy. The excess power those rooftop solar owners send to the grid during peak production times also reduces the need for costly and profitable new power plants. Instead of embracing the potential for customers to invest in a solar-powered grid, Michigan utilities are acting to minimize customer-driven solar markets from emerging.
At the same time DTE is choosing to slow-walk renewable energy progress, it’s also investing customer money in a gas power plant in part because it has a financial interest in the pipeline business; profits increase when gas pipelines are in demand. While utilities in some states are changing their business model to thrive in a solar-powered economy, Michigan utilities, particularly DTE, are anchoring the state’s energy economy to a model that was built for and appropriate in the 1900s, not the 2000s.
The bipartisan Energy Freedom package, House Bills 5861-5865, introduced this week by bill sponsors Rep. Gary Glenn (R-Williams Township), Rep. Yousef Rabhi, (D-Ann Arbor), Rep. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte), Rep. Scott Dianda (D-Calumet) and Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland), would help to break down the barriers to solar development and give customers more and better options. Here is how:
Remove the cap on number of households that can participate in the distributed generation program. Current law allows only 0.5% of a utility’s customers to earn credit for the excess electricity they share with the grid. The cap is one of the lowest in the nation and only serves to restrict the beneficial growth of solar in Michigan.
Ensure that rooftop solar owners get a fair price for the excess energy they share with the grid. The Fair Value bills ensure that solar customers are paid for the full range of quantifiable benefits they are providing to the power grid.
Provide a community solar garden option for customers who cannot or do not wish to install their own rooftop system. Community solar allows customers to subscribe to an offsite solar system and earn bill credits for the amount of solar energy represented by their subscription.
Study and deploy microgrids to improve reliability and resilience for critical facilities like hospitals and police stations during emergencies such as extreme weather events. These microgrids can separate or “island” off of the main utility grid to continue providing service when during times of widespread outages.
We should not need legislation to give customers energy choices and enable affordable, abundant and reliable renewable energy to compete with fossil fuels, but unfortunately, we do. We urge the General Assembly to act expeditiously to make these policies a reality.