Column: Michiganders deserve rooftop solar options

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Ever thought about installing rooftop solar on your home? Thanks to outdated laws and big utility influence, you might not be able to much longer.

Since Michigan’s first rooftop solar program was introduced in 2008, our state’s major utility companies have repeatedly blocked Michiganders from producing their own clean energy through their influence in Lansing.

It all started when DTE and Consumers Energy successfully lobbied to include a 1% cap on the amount of energy that can come from rooftop solar in 2008. Then in 2016, they influenced the process to decrease the amount of money that rooftop solar producers could earn back on their energy bills. Now, they’ve slammed the brakes on House Bill 4236, legislation that would remove the arbitrary 1% cap on rooftop solar, which has already been reached in utility service territories across the state.

And, while DTE and Consumers have put up smokescreens, claiming their efforts to block clean energy deployment across the state are in the best interest of Michigan consumers, the truth is they are only working to protect their profits.

Rooftop solar installations have a wide range of benefits for all Michigan energy users. People who choose to install rooftop solar on their homes and businesses save money on their energy bills, while also providing over three times the value of what they are compensated for back to the grid.

People with rooftop solar installations lower energy costs for their neighbors by adding increased grid capacity during peak energy use hours, and they lower the cost of energy transmission for DTE and Consumers. And according to a 2015 Department of Energy report, rooftop solar installations substantially increase overall grid reliability and security.

The future of rooftop solar is critical for our state’s low-income and BIPOC communities. BIPOC communities, like those in Detroit, are saddled with the highest electricity costs in the Midwest, face power reliability issues, and have some of the state’s highest asthma rates due to their disproportionate exposure to toxic air pollutants from burning fossil fuels. 

For communities like Detroit, rooftop solar development is an opportunity to improve air quality, increase grid reliability, lower energy costs, and grow local, skilled trade jobs.

But if rooftop solar producers provide our state with all these benefits, why are DTE and Consumers so adamantly opposed to eliminating the cap?

The answer lies within their business model and profit margins. DTE and Consumers make money off the infrastructure they own based on their return on equity, which is 9.9% for DTE. This means they are guaranteed profit on power plants and energy generation they own. With guaranteed profit, big utility companies are incentivized to build more expensive power plants and prevent Michigan residents from generating their own energy.

Every solar panel owned by a Michigan resident is a solar panel that can’t be used to increase utility profits. Evidently, that’s a problem for them.

For two utility companies that have raised rates on residential customers over one billion dollars over the past six years and who paid zero dollars in corporate taxes for 2020, their opposition to this commonsense legislation is not surprising. It also should cause outrage for any Michigan resident who wants a little more control over their energy.

Michiganders deserve to reap the benefits of the clean energy future without utility interference.

Michigan ratepayers and small businesses are relying on key Lansing legislators like Representative Joe Bellino, who chairs the House Energy Committee, to stand up to DTE and Consumers and put Michigan customers first by eliminating the cap on rooftop solar. We are fed up with skyrocketing energy rates and utility companies standing in the way of the few options we have to lower our bills and do something good for our planet and community.

It’s time for lawmakers to put us — your constituents — ahead of big utility interests and remove unnecessary limits on rooftop solar.

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Catherine Diggs
Catherine Diggs

Catherine Diggs is the Programs and Outreach Manager at Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.

Diane VanBuren
Diane VanBuren

Diane VanBuren is the co-founder of D2 solar, a solar energy company based in the city of Detroit.