To the Editor
Not long ago, rooftop solar panels were a relatively rare sight. Now, small-scale solar around the country adds up to nearly 25,000 megawatts, about twice the amount from just 3 years ago. Michigan has been a key part of this trend. Rooftop and other types of customer-sited solar stood at 5,000 kilowatts in Michigan in 2018, over ten times the amount in 2010, according to the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC).
Over the past decade the costs of solar panels and other clean technologies have dropped precipitously due to technological advancements. As a result, a growing number of homes and businesses have adopted distributed generation—sources of electricity, including but not only solar panels, that are sited at the point of use like a home or business.
This trend, however, could screech to a halt in Michigan due to a state law that caps the amount of rooftop solar that each utility must connect to its system. The Michigan League of Conservation Voters (Michigan LCV), the Association of Businesses Advocating Tariff Equity (ABATE), the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council (Michigan EIBC) are calling upon state lawmakers to act before the caps block more Michigan residents and business owners from adopting rooftop solar.
If that were to happen, everyone would be affected, including those who never plan on getting solar panels. More efficient use of energy, reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as well as a more reliable electric grid are good for everyone, which is why groups like ours—which have different priorities and represent very different stakeholders— nevertheless are calling for the same legislative action.
That action is HB 4236, a bill newly introduced to the legislature by state Rep. Greg Markkanen, which would remove this cap.
Once enough customers install rooftop solar and the cap is maxed out, a utility is under no obligation to connect more rooftop solar customers. The result is business uncertainty, lost jobs, more pollution, increased costs and decreased solar installations. All Michiganders—not just those that have solar panels on their homes or businesses—would lose out on several benefits of rooftop solar.
The first benefit is economic development and good jobs. Leading solar companies are considering pulling out of Michigan to focus on markets in other states. Michigan needs highly skilled, well-paying jobs, and pre-pandemic the solar industry was one of the biggest growth industries for the state. Throughout 2020, the industry was able to get back on its feet and resume installing arrays safely, but the threat of the caps has held back a full recovery.
Second, rooftop solar and other forms of distributed generation are cutting energy costs for consumers. ABATE, which represents large, primarily industrial companies that want reasonable energy costs, supports lifting the cap because their companies have personally experienced the affordability and energy reliability that comes from on-site, customer-owned generation. Distributed generation users can meet a portion of their own energy needs with the electricity generated by their panels, meaning they draw less power from the grid. Since the upkeep of the grid is paid for through all of our electric bills, reducing strains on the grid helps all energy consumers.
Third, rooftop solar is a clean, non-CO2-emitting source of energy. The Michigan LCV sees distributed solar as an important part of the fight to improve the environment. The more Michigan uses renewable energy like solar, the less utilities need to run fossil fuel-burning plants that contribute to air pollution and climate change, and the easier it will be for the state to cut its carbon emissions.
Reducing emissions also has more immediate benefits for hunters, anglers and birders across our state. Rising temperatures are shifting big game migration patterns and disrupt natural habitats, and climate change is eroding opportunities for hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. Solar energy is an essential tool to alleviate this crisis for outdoor recreation, which is why the National Wildlife Federation has joined the effort to eliminate the cap on solar.
Consumers Energy Co. agreed to double its cap after it was hit last year, but that is just a temporary solution and the caps could be hit soon for other utilities such as DTE Energy. The permanent fix is for the state legislature to approve proposed bills that would eliminate the cap. Michiganders of all political stripes and backgrounds should join the effort to make our state’s energy cleaner, more affordable and more reliable.
Laura Sherman, President, Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council
Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes Regional Executive Director, National Wildlife Federation
Rod Williamson, Executive Director, ABATE
Lisa Wozniak, Executive Director, Michigan League of Conservation Voters