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What’s Up in Lansing: New Study Illuminates Benefits of Large-Scale Solar

In light of the recent Clean Power Act issued by the EPA, Michigan faces new challenges in meeting its energy needs as 30% of the state’s electricity production will cease when nine coal-fired plants are shuttered over the coming year.

Renewables will be an important component of Michigan’s energy future—and solar power will likely play an increasingly larger role. The question remains: how do we best integrate solar power into our state’s energy portfolio so that all Michiganders benefit?  A new study indicates that the smart answer is large-scale solar projects sponsored by local energy providers.

The Benefits of Large-Scale Solar

A recent study by the Brattle Group is providing important data for policymakers. The first “solar to solar” comparison between utility-scale and household-based solar power generation highlights the advantage of large-scale systems.

Frank Graves, principal of the Brattle Group, points out: “Thoughtful energy policy requires a thorough understanding of the relative costs of utility- and residential-scale solar [photovoltaic cells (PV)] for achieving policy goals.”

Based on equal rooftop and utility-scale solar projects, the study found:

  •  Greater efficiencies such as better solar panel placement and tracking make utility-scale solar more affordable. Looking ahead to 2019 (when Michigan will need to meet interim goals for EPA standards), utility-scale power costs per megawatt hour were projected to be $66-$117 versus $123-$193 for residential solar. In all cases, the study found utility-scale solar to be around 50 percent more cost-effective than residential solar.
  •  According to Brattle principal and co-author of the study Dr. Peter Fox-Penner, “Over the last decade, solar energy costs for both rooftop and bulk-power applications have come down dramatically. But utility-scale solar will remain substantially less expensive per [kilowatt hour (kWh)] generated than rooftop.”
  •  Utility-scale solar makes solar power available to everyone, not just those who have the ability to install rooftop panels. Fox-Penner goes on to say, “Utility-scale PV allows everyone access to solar power. From the standpoint of cost, equity, and environmental benefits, large-scale solar is a crucial resource.”
  • Utility-scale solar helps achieve tougher carbon emission standards more efficiently. Comparisons show that utility-scale solar produces about 50 percent less carbon emissions than the equivalent amount generated by rooftop solar.

Michigan Senate Hearing Highlights Need for Fairness

On August 26, the Michigan Senate Energy and Technology Committee held another hearing to discuss Senators Nofs’ and Proos’ new energy legislation, focusing specifically on the role of solar power in Michigan’s energy mix.  Testimonies from a range of participants highlighted the need for Michigan to update its net metering policies in order to protect fairness for all consumers as well as the invaluable role local energy providers are playing in making solar more available and affordable for all Michiganders.  Here are some highlights:

  • Testifying in support of the Nofs-Proos energy package, Vice President of Business Planning and Development at DTE Energy Irene Dimitry said the local energy provider has “invested $50 million toward developing solar power and currently operates 22 large-scale solar farms, which generate close to 10 megawatts of power – or enough to power 1,600 homes,” making them the state’s largest investor in solar power.
  • Dimitry also noted that “large-scale solar is the most cost-effective option for solar power in Michigan, costing less than half the cost of small-scale, rooftop solar” and that current net metering policy means “rooftop solar customers are avoiding paying their fair share for the use of the grid and the need for backup power.”
  • Nancy Popa, Director of Renewable Energy at Consumers Energy, reiterated those sentiments, saying that rooftop solar consumers are “avoiding two-thirds of the costs of their energy bill – shifting that cost onto traditional utility customers.”
  • Edison Electric Institute Vice President Edward Comer, an expert in net metering policy, said, “The fact is that net metering provides a huge subsidy, which allows customers to avoid paying costs of the grid even though they rely upon it around the clock.”  He also confirmed that independent studies have proven utility-scale solar can produce electricity at half the cost of smaller-scale, rooftop solar.

Overall, the hearing underscored the significance of the Brattle Report’s findings of the benefits of large-scale solar projects while also highlighting the need to update our current net metering policy.

Michigan has much to gain in the continued development of utility-scale solar. Affordable, reliable, renewable energy for consumers is a key priority and advantage. And production, construction, and maintenance of large-scale solar installations can bolster Michigan’s economy while securing a more sustainable energy future for our state.

What else would you like to know about solar? Send us your questions.