Special Report: Putting Solar Power to Work in Michigan

July 25, 2014 | |

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.


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