Bills aim to bring solar energy to more Michiganders

By: - October 23, 2019 5:03 pm

A group of lawmakers have announced bipartisan legislation geared at making it easier for Michigan residents to invest in solar.

The bills, collectively called the “Powering Michigan Forward” package, were introduced at the state Capitol on Tuesday by state Sens. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte), Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), and state Reps. Gregory Markkanen (R-Hancock) and Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor). Senate Bills 596-598 and House Bills 5143-5145 eliminate regulatory roadblocks that lawmakers say are preventing further growth of Michigan’s residential solar energy market.

The bills would do so by repealing parts of former Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2016 energy policy plan, which was divisive and heavily lobbied at the time it was passed. The set of policies had, among other things, capped the amount of smaller renewable energy projects allowed in Michigan and changed the pricing model for solar customers.

Yousef Rabhi | House Democrats phot

“With that cap impending, we are … potentially going to see a dramatic downshift or a dramatic falloff in terms of the amount of investment, the amount of jobs and the amount of folks that are investing in alternative energy systems on their properties,” said Rabhi, who introduced House Bills 5143 and 5144.

Rabhi’s bills would provide for net metering programs, standard offer contracts for large generators and fair value tariffs in the distributed generation program; and eliminate the tariff for distributed generation and net metering customers.

Similarly, Markkanen’s HB 5145 would eliminate caps and references to tariffs in the 2016 legislation.

“Because of the changes that were made out in the 2016 energy legislation, there has been an incredible amount of damage done to the solar installation industry here in Michigan,” Irwin said. “… The previously stable and growing solar installation industry that we have in Michigan has been cut down.”

Irwin’s bill, SB 598, would eliminate the tariff for distributed generation and net metering customers.

The Gov. Gretchen Whitmer administration, in conjunction with the Michigan Public Service Commission, last week unveiled its own clean energy initiatives.

Eliminating cap on rooftop solar

Supporters of the Powering Michigan Forward package argue that the current distributed generation tariff scares away potential solar customers and makes it harder for current solar customers to determine how much they will save on their bills. They also say that the current state cap on the amount of rooftop solar allowed in the state is a threat to Michigan’s solar industry, as the 1% cap will soon be reached.

Sen. Ed McBroom speaks on the floor of the state Senate | Nick Manes

McBroom, who represents the 38th Senate district in the Upper Peninsula, says that cap has already been reached in parts of the U.P.

“We’ve already hit the cap in my district … and the [solar] opportunities, therefore, have kind of dried up,” McBroom said.

McBroom’s bill, SB 597, would eliminate those caps and references to a tariff in the distributed generation program.

“I have a lot of residents across the Upper Peninsula who are paying some of the highest utility rates in the nation, and the opportunity to generate their own power is very attractive to them.

“So, we are constantly looking for ways that get us around the big industrial complex of generating power, and how can we return this right – this freedom – back to our local residents to have control of their own destiny, of their own businesses, of their own homes,” McBroom said.

SB 596, sponsored by Barrett, would provide for net metering programs and standard offer contracts for large generators and fair value tariffs in the distributed generation program.

Businesses and groups supporting the bill include the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council, POWERHOME Solar, Northeastern Products Corp., and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

Michigan’s utility giants, DTE Energy Co. and Consumers Energy Co., both oppose the bills.

The Senate bills have been referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Technology, and the House bills have been referred to the House Committee on Energy.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.