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Changes needed in state law that govern solar

Greg Markkanen

Michigan has the highest electricity rates in the Midwest and that needs to change.

For constituents in the Upper Peninsula, where I live, and across Michigan, ever-rising electricity costs can mean “lights out” for small businesses and families struggling to get back on their feet.

This is a critical issue for my constituents who have been emailing, calling me, and showing up at coffee hours.

Unlocking the power of solar energy so residents can take control of their own energy prices is part of the solution. It’s been a success story in the U.P. In fact, because of these sky-high prices and the affordability of solar, we keep hitting the cap on rooftop solar in the Upper Peninsula Power Company’s territory.

Why does Michigan law that caps the number of homes and businesses that can install solar panels on their roof? Great question. It shouldn’t. It’s arbitrary and nonsensical. The market should decide how much solar families, farmers and small businesses want to use, not big utility companies.

That is why I introduced House Bill 4236 with strong bipartisan support this legislative session. This legislation would eliminate the 1 percent cap on rooftop solar, which is known in the industry as distributed generation. With my bill, our state would let homeowners and businesses install rooftop solar if they so choose.

However, for the better part of five months, Michigan’s major utility companies have stood in the way of this choice and the bill hasn’t made it out of the House Energy Committee chaired by my colleague, Rep. Joe Bellino. Michigan’s utilities have a monopoly on the market, and they are compelled to keep it that way because that’s one of the ways the utilities make money.

If you put solar on your home or business, not only do you reduce your monthly electricity bills, but you can also sell some of the excess power back to the utility companies at a lower rate.

Michigan’s regulators determined the amount of that lower rate over the last several years and have decided it is fair — ensuring that everyone pays their fair share of the costs of our electricity grid. Despite this, the utilities don’t want to allow willing homeowners and businesses to produce their own power. Instead, they want Michiganders to keep paying them exorbitantly high rates for the electricity we use.

Meanwhile, clean energy companies like Peninsula Solar in Marquette and Blue Terra Energy LLC in my hometown of Hancock are creating jobs and investing in our communities. Installing rooftop solar helps lower monthly electricity bills, grows jobs and helps our economy.

So, I say: Let’s pass this bill I introduced back in February.

Ford Motor Co.’s recent debut of the F-150 Lightning and its support for charging this zero-emission vehicle with solar energy is just one more example of how our state, our country and the world is transitioning to clean, renewable energy.

Right now, when people buy electric vehicles in Michigan, they are typically forced to plug them into an outlet powered by fossil fuels – coal and natural gas. That’s because of Michigan’s overreliance on coal and natural gas to produce the electricity that powers our homes and businesses. Although this is shifting, it’s happening at a relatively slow pace.

Ford’s announcement that it is partnering to install an all-in-one solar system that will power electric vehicles like the Ford F-150 Lightning is historic. We need a vibrant local solar market and changes to Michigan’s outdated law to eliminate the cap on rooftop solar, so homeowners and businesses will be able to benefit from this all-in-one system. Otherwise, electric vehicle owners will continue plugging into outlets powered by coal and natural gas.

Consumers who want to power their Michigan homes, businesses and vehicles with clean, renewable energy need HB 4236 to pass.

Utilities like to claim they support clean energy when they produce radio ads and make statements to the media. HB 4236 is an opportunity to back up these claims with action. It’s imperative we allow all the consumers in Michigan to take charge of their utility bills and control their own energy generation.

There is broad-based support from groups and businesses for this bill because they agree solar energy has huge potential to create jobs, keep businesses in our state, support farmers, and foster energy independence.

It can save money and put it back in the pockets of Michigan families.

I want Michigan to be number one when it comes to solar energy, instead of being Number One in the Midwest in terms of high electricity costs.

Editor’s note: Greg Markkanen, a Republican of Hancock, is a member of the Michigan House of Representatives, representing the 110th District, which includes Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Iron, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties, as well as Ishpeming and Powell townships in Marquette County.

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