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Environmental groups: Indiana Michigan Power unfairly capping access to rooftop solar credits

Utility service areas; Indiana Michigan Power is the orange area on the far left bottom side of the map
Michigan Public Service Commission
Utility service areas; Indiana Michigan Power is the orange area on the far left bottom side of the map

Environmental groups say Indiana Michigan Power is being unfair to future rooftop solar customers.

The utility has more than 100,000 customers in southwest Michigan.

Daniel Abrams is with Environmental Law and Policy Center.

He said participation in the utility's regular residential solar program has reached a state-allowed cap of 1%. That program pays enrolled customers for excess electricity they put on the grid.

Instead of voluntarily expanding access over the cap, as Consumers Energy has done (its new cap is 4%) and DTE Energy has done (its new cap is 6%), Abrams said Indiana Michigan Power plans a much more confusing, costly program for future rooftop solar customers.

"There shouldn't even be a cap," said Abrams. "What we end up doing in these regulatory proceedings over solar rooftop programs is inch ever closer to the cap, and then the utilities can use the cap as a bargaining chip to get other things they want from state regulators. And expanding rooftop solar helps everyone on the grid. But considering there is a cap, we believe Indiana Michigan should voluntarily raise it."

Analysts with the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council also oppose the utility's proposed plan for future customers who want to install rooftop solar. They said the plan involves requiring customers to sign hard-to understand, long-term contracts.

“Most (if not all) customers will be hesitant to sign a contract with an investor-owned utility," MEIBC said in comments filed with the Michigan Public Service Commission. "The power dynamics in such a contract negotiation would be highly skewed in favor of the utility. In addition, most residential homeowners do not necessarily plan to stay in their home for at least 5 years."

The proposed program would also expose future customers to extra charges that would be unreasonable and economically prohibitive for rooftop solar, the group added.

Indiana Michigan Power did not directly respond to the criticism, but said it will help future customers enroll in its proposed program, "which also credits customers who send energy onto I&M’s power grid."

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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