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Bills to restore net metering and lift rooftop solar cap introduced in state Senate

Energy Conversion Devices, Inc.'s "UNI-SOLAR" panels on the Governor's residence in Lansing, Michigan.
Energy Conversion Devices
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Solar panels on the Governor's residence in Lansing, Michigan.

A newly introduced bill in the state Senate would lift the cap on how many residential electricity customers could enroll in utility rooftop solar programs, also known as distributed generation.

Those programs provide bill credits for customers who produce more electricity than they need, and put it on the local grid for neighbors to use.

Right now, there's a roughly 1% limit on enrollment in those programs. While Consumers Energy voluntarily lifted its cap to 4%, DTE Energy didn't.  Laura Sherman is with the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council. 

"The end of 2023 is the end of that option for folks in DTE's territory, which is a lot of folks in Michigan," said Sherman.

SB 362, introduced by Democratic State Senator Jeff Irwin, also restores the state's former net metering system. Under net metering, customers pay for energy from the grid if they need more than they generate and get credit for energy they generate.

The bill also directs the Michigan Public Service Commission to hold full hearings to determine a fair value tariff for energy produced by distributed generation, taking into account systemic factors like the contribution of distributed generation to peak capacity and transmission costs.

"We should take into account everything," said Sherman. "Including the energy you're providing to your neighbor, the benefit you're providing to the utility because they don't have to go build more distribution lines, and the benefit to reducing local power outages."

DTE said it has no specific comment on the bill. 

In a statement, Consumers Energy said it was "all in on solar energy." But the company added:

We also want solar energy cost-effective for all, and that is why we’ve already doubled our cap — twice. But the reality is that equal access to solar energy will not come from this legislation, and instead will allow solar access for the affluent in a way that is ultimately subsidized by the most vulnerable. Rooftop systems are an excellent option for those who can afford them, but they’re also triple the cost of utility-scale systems and require 24/7 access to the traditional grid for storage at night and during Michigan winters, as well as holding any excess they generate and cannot store themselves. We look forward to continuing the conversation about how to achieve the clean energy future Michigan deserves at a price point every Michigander can afford.

DTE Energy and Consumers Energy are among Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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