Ann Arbor politicians introduce solar energy initiatives

Wednesday, October 30, 2019 - 3:50pm

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Design by Maggie Huang

Last week, Michigan lawmakers, including state Sen. Jeff Irwin and state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, both Ann Arbor democrats, introduced a set of bills that would promote investment in solar energy across the state. The legislation would offer economic incentives for Michigan residents who install solar energy systems on their properties. 

 

The Powering Michigan Forward package would address statewide regulations on residential solar energy production that lawmakers say are preventing the expansion of renewable energy investment. 

 

The package plans to shift residential solar energy production in Michigan from an “inflow, outflow” system to a net metering system. In an “inflow, outflow” system, residents with solar panels must purchase all their energy needs from utility companies at a retail rate and then sell the energy created by their solar panels back to the companies at a lower cost. In a net metering system, residents with solar panels only need to pay utility companies for the energy they consume beyond what is produced by their solar panels. Additionally, if the resident’s solar panels produce more energy than the resident consumes, the resident is able to sell the unused energy to utility companies that add the energy back to the grid. 

 

Rabhi introduced two House Bills last week, which are very similar to a set of bills he sponsored the last political term. The package is in response to a 2016 energy law put into effect under then-Gov. Rick Snyder that changed Michigan’s regulation of residential solar energy production from a net metering system to an “inflow, outflow” system. 

 

“That is creating an economic environment for the people installing solar panels on their homes that is disfavorable and reduces the financial viability of those solar projects,” Rabhi said. “So that is a very bad system.” 

 

Rabhi’s first bill would repeal the language in the 2016 energy law that allowed the change from a net metering system to an “inflow, outflow” system. The second would require the Michigan Public Service Commission to develop a fair pricing system for solar energy that would reflect the benefit of residential solar panels. 

 

Rabhi said energy utility companies have expressed the greatest opposition for these solar energy investment bills, adding these companies will have ample time to weigh in on the proposed legislation. 

 

“This is an uphill battle, but I think it is an uphill battle that is worth fighting because, again, we are in dire need of a renewable energy future and this is how we get that,” Rabhi said.

 

John Benedict, a lecturer for the Program in the Environment, teaches a course discussing contemporary ecological issues. A major theme of the course is the pollution and habitat destruction that results from the extraction and use of fossil fuels, as well as the urgency to move toward using renewable energy sources such as solar power. Benedict said the 2016 legislation hurt interest in renewable energy in the state.

 

“The legislation sounded like it might have been highly influenced by lobbies that didn’t want renewables to really blossom,” Benedict said. “This new legislation seems like it’s taking into account the idea that renewables are becoming more cheap, and if we get public investment in it, it just drives that system more.”

 

Benedict also said a net metering system is an essential step in allowing the public to have the power and government support to commit to sustainable energy sources.

 

“It’s just such a good incentive to having people invest in their own energy future,” Benedict said. “As opposed to leaving it up state-level legislation which is going to mandate how our companies operate, like Consumer Electric or DTE.” 

 

LSA sophomore Fiona Lynch, a long-time Ann Arbor resident, said she is enthusiastic about a system that incentivizes Michigan residents to install renewable energy systems.

 

“I think it’s important for politicians to really give respect to the role that they’ve been given and start taking serious action because that’s what they’ve been elected to do,” Lynch said. “This is a big opportunity to actually make change, and so I think it’s great that it’s starting to happen and I hope it continues to happen.”

 

Rabhi added the Powering Michigan Forward package is part of a larger political movement to create and pass state laws focusing on sustainability issues. Even now, Rabhi is developing and will soon introduce another bill that will create a 100 percent renewable energy portfolio in the state of Michigan, meaning that all of the state’s energy will come from clean energy sources.

 

“I think this (bill package) is part of a much bigger effort,” Rabhi said. “Right now our portfolio standard is 15 percent, and I want that to be 100 percent in the state of Michigan so that we have an actual renewable energy goal that will get us to not just carbon neutrality, but actually to a fully renewable energy system by the year 2050.”