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Special Report: Putting Solar Power to Work in Michigan

Work group tackles state's solar policy problem

Solar power | July 25, 2014 | By Jim Dulzo

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Michigan is far behind other states in generating solar power. But it’s hardly a cloud-cover problem: After all, solar is soaring in states no sunnier than ours.

What Michigan has is a solar policy problem—no strong incentives, minimums or “carve outs” for solar in its renewable energy mandates, and plenty of market, regulatory, and utility barriers making home and small business solar unrewarding.

Last year DTE Energy and Consumers Energy tried to discontinue their tiny solar “pilot” programs, which over three years facilitated about 10 megawatts of customer-installed solar panels. This at a time when sharply falling panel and installation costs, special federal tax deductions, and strong pro-solar policies in many states—including cloudy ones like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania—are producing a veritable explosion of new solar development around the country.

Michigan’s solar community pointed out the problem, and the Michigan Public Service Commission formed a “solar work group”—MPSC staff, utility representatives, and solar business advocates—to find next steps for the utilities’ fledging solar initiatives.

The group, which meets in Lansing once every three weeks, will draft a report in May. MPSC staff will finalize the report in June and could recommend action to MPSC commissioners at that time. 

The Michigan Land Use Institute, which is part of the work group, is reporting on these meetings—which might create a significant, even historic turning point for the rise of solar power in Michigan.

Part 1: Feb. 25, 2014
State, Top Utilities, Energy Groups Eye Next Steps for Solar
Search is on for ways to bring more ‘panel power’ to Michigan
A short history of utility solar pilot programs, objections to them by solar advocates, formation of MPSC ‘solar work group.’

Part 2: March 4, 2014
Work Group, Meet ‘Value of Solar’
Ex-utility exec shows how sun power can make dollars and sense
There are other ways to figure fair rates for solar power, and the best ones reflect just how helpful solar panels can be to a utility’s fuel costs risks and grid operation.

Part 3: March 10, 2014
For What It’s Worth: Former Utility Exec Talks ‘Value of Solar’
Closer look at utility economics finds common-sense sun-power rates
Meet Karl Rábago, a multi-tasking utility industry veteran. He didn’t invent ‘value of solar,’ but he did apply it to ratemaking at Austin Energy, with excellent results. 

Part 4: March 21, 2014
DTE, Consumers Weigh In on Expanding Rooftop Solar
Utilities raise ‘fairness’ concerns with work group

Representatives of Michigan’s two largest utilities, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, made their first presentation to the state’s solar work group, and expressed little enthusiasm for expanding the use of customer-generated, jobs-producing, clean solar energy. 

Part 5: April 8, 2014
Solar Installers Sound Off on DTE, Consumers Programs
Two veterans to address work group meeting

In 2012, the roof fell in for rooftop solar in Michigan, when the utilities significantly changed their pilots. Two veteran solar installers will address the work group and explain why Michigan is falling behind other states.

Part 6: April 16, 2014
Solar Owners Rate Michigan’s Net Metering, Utility Pilots
Flexibility, sensible rates, new business models top wish lists

As work group meetings continue, interviews with solar panel owners confirmed that they are glad they built their systems, but have suggestions for improving the utilities’ solar pilots and the state’s net metering rules.

Part 7: May 20, 2014
National Rooftop Solar Foe to Address Work Group
Edison Institute, DTE to critique push for more Michigan rooftop power
The May 20 meeting—the last before a report is drafted—might be contentious: It features a presentation by the Edison Electric Institute, a national utility trade group that sees rooftop solar as an existential threat to their clients’ monopolies, and helps lead a multi-state attack on the technology.

Part 8: June 4, 2014
As Sun Sets on Solar Work Group, State to Suggest Next Steps
But will DTE, Consumers facilitate more rooftop systems?

All the slide shows and presentations are handed in; advocates and opponents have made and rested their cases; and the state’s Solar Working Group has had its last meeting on the future of sun power in Michigan. Now it’s the Michigan Public Service Commission’s turn. 

Part 9: June 14, 2014
MPSC Releases Draft Report on Solar Working Group
They see little, if any, effect on rates from modest additions of sun power

Solar advocates and staff from Michigan’s two largest utilities are mulling over a draft report that suggests ways the state could start catching up with the nation’s accelerating, jobs-rich boom in roof-top solar energy without raising customers’ rates significantly, if at all. 

Part 10: July 23, 2014
No Consensus on Pay Rates for Rooftop Solar Electricity
Utilities reject pricing studies, but pressure grows for more sun power

Four months of meetings have failed to produce an agreement among state regulators, solar energy advocates, and the state’s top two utilities about expanding the companies’ highly popular customer-owned rooftop solar programs.


3721 days ago, 9:59pm | by Greg Horn | Report Comment

More tax dollars to subsidize solar? Why should my tax dollars support some ones chose of power need?. If it was so wonderful everyone would be doing it without incentives.

3715 days ago, 5:44pm | by Jim Dulzo | Report Comment

Nothing in any of these articles says a thing about 'more tax dollars to subsidize solar.' If you are going to critique these articles, you should try reading them closely first. Solar is increasingly competitive with nuclear, new coal and, in some places, even new gas-powered plants, and those fuels have received massive tax subsidies for decades. So go complain about that, instead!

3709 days ago, 2:17pm | by Greg Horn | Report Comment

Hi Jim,

Thank you for your comments. I forgot terms like "strong incentives", "carve outs" and "Special Federal Tax Deductions" don't mean Subsidize. In other words, if solar was a great idea, we wouldn't need a policy to promote.

3701 days ago, 6:02pm | by Jim Dulzo | Report Comment

Debates over the true meaning of 'subsidize' aside, taxes do finally come up in story number 5, just posted. I'm sure our solar pals would love to drop whatever paltry tax advantages are out there for them--and they are paltry--if nuclear, coal, oil, and, yes, wind did the same. BTW, what you insist on calling subsidies or tax incentives or mandates seems to be working in the countries and states that have them. It's built the American wind industry, which now produces power way more cheaply than new coal plants and about the same as natural gas. That's a great accomplishment over a 10 or 12-year period. We're into practical solutions that lead to clean, low-cost energy over time, not ideological posturing about how evil taxes and subsides and mandates are. What are YOUR suggestions for getting this done? Or is clean energy just another hoax, like climate change. vaccinations, and evolution?

3700 days ago, 9:11pm | by Jeremy Zinn | Report Comment

All energy is subsidized in some way or another. Solar is clean green and getting cheaper every year. The figures that show solar is on par with coal and nuclear typically don't factor in the problem with the waste from nuclear. Whether you pay for a utility owned new nuke or your neighbors solar panels, you're still going to pay for the improvements. It's your future embrace it! And get this you can install solar for pretty much the same cost as you are over paying your utilities each month. If you're paying $150 per month for electric you could be close to that for solar, except in a few years you're free and clear from the loan you use to pay for it.

3696 days ago, 3:37pm | by Mark Clevey | Report Comment

We have a real opportunity here to use our low-cost Natural Gas competitige advantage to power manufacuturers that produce cost-competitive renewable energy and energy efficiency products for both use in the state and export. A home market is essential for this to happen.

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