Communities or utilities: Who should own solar projects?
State lawmakers are working on legislation now to increase solar access and decrease energy costs to residents.
Michigan's clean energy development has focused heavily on wind power since an act in 2008 required utilities to generate a certain percent of clean energy and made rooftop or ground-mounted solar available to private property owners.
Utilities like Consumers and DTE Energy have been at the helm of solar development since then but now, more clean energy advocates want a seat at the table.
Current state House Bills 4715 and 4716, introduced at the end of April, would allow for privately owned community solar projects where residents could purchase panels connected to the grid.
Jim Murray, Midwest Director for Coalition for Community Solar Access, said the idea is to increase solar access at a discounted price.
“Customers like this because they get a guaranteed 10-15 percent savings off the energy that is produced on their bill credits,” he said.
Rural counties have high potential for these projects according to experts. Areas like Brownfields, closed landfills, retired minefields, and unused parking lots are prime.
Developers are looking to buy, or rent, land - often from farmers.
Paul Gross, a field crops educator with the Isabella County MSU Extension Office, said he has seen varying interest from farmers.
“The farmers that I know that have signed a lease or are considering it are willing to sign up very unproductive pieces of farmland,” he said. “Some of them are ready to retire and that will provide them with retirement income.”
In a written statement, Consumers Energy said they oppose the bill in its current form. They say it is designed to allow a select few to profit and has the potential for energy deregulation - which they say can cause breakdowns like last winter in Texas.
Bill supporters denied the possibility of deregulation because community solar keeps energy on Michigan’s grid and unlike Texas, the grid is connected to surrounding states.
The bipartisan bill legislation is sitting in the House Energy committee and is on hold until officials return from recess Sept. 9 according to State Rep. Rachel Hood, (D-Grand Rapids). She said there is a chance it could be amended.