The role renewable energy plays in securing a reliable, sustainable energy future for all Michiganders will only grow as we continue to meet the challenges and opportunities posed by changing federal mandates and the retirement of 25 Michigan electricity generating units over the next five years.
The good news is we’re already making progress on the renewables front:
One key to maintaining balance among all our energy priorities—reliability, affordability, and sustainability—is to ensure we maintain an “all of the above” energy portfolio, as we discussed in last week’s post on the use of Integrated Resource Plans (IRPs).
Some current policies around renewable energy give preferential treatment to a few consumers over others. For example, our state’s net metering policy shifts grid maintenance costs from those with rooftop solar panels to the rest of Michigan energy consumers, even though people with rooftop solar panels use the grid every day just like the rest of us. Read more about net metering.
Lawmakers should address this unfair policy—which essentially creates a subsidy for rooftop solar borne by Michigan energy consumers who can’t or choose not to employ solar panels on their business or dwelling. We believe it’s particularly unfair that low-income Michigan families are offsetting the cost for rooftop solar customers to access the grid.
Unlike rooftop solar, large-scale solar projects help make solar power more affordable and available to more Michiganders. According to a report released by the Brattle Group earlier this year, these large-scale solar projects are around 50 percent more cost-effective than residential solar while also producing less impact on the environment. With the right policies, Michigan can continue investing in large-scale projects that ensure all Michiganders benefit equally from renewables like solar power.
Over the next 50 years, the way we generate and access electricity will change significantly. Michigan must be prepared to produce renewable energy on our own. That means we need policies that encourage investment in renewables right here in Michigan rather than out of state. This will help ensure Michigan families and businesses benefit from investment in renewable energy by way of job creation, energy reliability, and property tax payments to local governments.
Aligning with the Governor’s Vision
It’s important that we remember renewables are only one path forward, and we should be pursuing every path that makes sense for Michigan. In his vision of Michigan’s energy future, Governor Snyder calls for greater integration of clean and renewable energy sources, including natural gas, wind, solar, hydro, and other energy sources, coupled with greater energy efficiency. He also highlights the need to diversify Michigan’s energy mix to make sure we are able to create the energy we need to power all of Michigan.
Speaking on the need to keep Michigan in charge of its energy future, the Governor said, “We also must ensure that Michigan – not Washington, D.C. – will determine how we move forward, transitioning…to newer, cleaner methods [of generating electricity].”
Current and Future Investments
Despite some setbacks, such as when voters nixed a proposed wind farm earlier this year, wind energy remains the most viable renewable resource for Michigan. With more than 20 active and in-development wind farms across the state, wind energy accounts for nearly half of Michigan’s renewable energy sources.
But don’t count solar out just yet. Local energy providers are investing heavily in solar, with DTE Energy alone running 22 large-scale solar farms statewide. DTE Energy also operates the two largest solar arrays in Michigan and is currently developing what will be the largest solar project in the state. Consumers Energy is taking a slightly different approach, with their community “solar gardens.”
Meanwhile, hydroelectric power plants provide about 1.5 percent of our state’s energy needs. The Ludington Pumped Storage Plant, for example, produces enough power for nearly 1.5 million Michigan homes. However, questions still loom as to whether that particular facility would count toward the EPA’s renewable requirements under the Clean Power Plan.
Policies out of Lansing should enable energy providers to leverage the right sources at the right time to protect the environment and meet consumers’ needs. They should also allow for new technologies to be integrated as they become more viable.
The fact is: we still don’t know where new, emerging energy technologies will take us. We shouldn’t box ourselves in by relying on mandates to dictate which renewable energy sources we should be using. A more flexible approach would ensure we are able to adapt to changing times in order to pursue an energy plan that works best for Michigan.
We need forward-thinking legislation like Representative Nesbitt’s in the House or the Nofs-Proos proposal in the Senate. These solutions encourage Michigan to look at its energy mix holistically and embrace the fairness and flexibility we need to secure a cleaner, more sustainable energy future that benefits all Michiganders.