New ‘Power for All’ Bills to Help Michiganders Harness More Solar Energy

The sun rises over Frankenmuth. (Aaron Burden via Unsplash)

By Kyle Kaminski

August 25, 2023

Clean energy advocates are urging state lawmakers to pass a series of bills to promote solar energy production. It’s called the “MI Power for All” plan.

MICHIGAN—Michigan could be doing a lot more to help accelerate—or at least stop standing in the way of—the adoption of solar power production and storage across the state, a group of clean energy advocates argued at a press conference this week.

And by passing a series of bills into law later this year, state lawmakers can promote more environmentally friendly energy production in Michigan while also ensuring that all Michiganders—including historically underserved families and communities—are able to reap the economic and environmental benefits, they said.

State Rep. Donavan McKinney (D-Detroit) is among several Democratic lawmakers who introduced the bills earlier this year. The package of legislation is expected to resurface this fall after state lawmakers return to Lansing from a summer break in the first week of September. 

In a statement, McKinney said the legislation aims to address both power affordability and reliability—and make Michigan more competitive for federal grant funding that was made available under the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law last year.

“The country is already rapidly moving toward an economy powered by clean, low-cost energy, but now we need systems in place to make sure that nobody is left behind in this transition,” McKinney said. “Passing the MI Power for All plan will be a huge step forward in advancing renewable energy solutions that will bring everyone equitable access to a clean and sustainable future.”

Here’s an overview of the different bills that comprise the “MI Power for All” plan:

Community Solar Projects

Senate Bill 153 and House Bill 4464 were introduced by state Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and state Rep. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids). Both bills have been referred to committees. Together, they aim to help more Michiganders tap into solar energy—and save cash. 

Specifically, the legislation would create a new statewide utility credit system where Michiganders can set up their own, community-based solar projects and receive discounts on their electricity bills for any power that those local solar projects produce.

Recent power outages and rising costs have exacerbated the need to harness more solar energy as an alternative source of electricity, proponents say. The new community solar projects would allow homeowners, small businesses owners, school district officials, and church leaders to construct and share a solar facility with their friends or neighbors.

The bills could give a boost to solar installation and manufacturing companies. And at least 30% of the energy produced under the program would reportedly go specifically to low-income households and service groups.

In a statement, Hood said the legislation represents a new “tool for the people to build reliable and affordable energy”—one that could prove especially valuable for renters, those in shared housing, and Michiganders whose housing will not support individual solar arrays. 

If the legislation passes, Michigan would join 22 other states (and Washington DC) in allowing community solar projects. State lawmakers said the bills would also enable more Michiganders to access billions of dollars in federal clean energy funding via the Inflation Reduction Act. 

“Michigan residents, not monopoly utilities, should be making the decisions about how our electricity is generated,” Irwin said in a statement after the press conference. “Getting these bills across the finish line will shift power back to the people where it belongs, while simultaneously establishing Michigan as a leader in the equitable transition to renewable energy.”

Excess Energy Credits

In May, Irwin also joined state Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) to introduce Senate Bills 362 and 363. Both bills have since been referred to the Committee on Energy and Environment. 

Together, they aim to remove an existing measure in state law that has prevented some Michiganders from receiving credits for power they produce from their rooftop solar arrays.

Those buy-back programs (also known as distributed power generation) are currently limited under state law, which only requires utilities to reimburse customers for excess energy they produce until the utilities buy back enough electricity to equal 1% of their average peak demand.  

Some companies, like Consumers Energy, have voluntarily expanded the buyback cap to 4%. Others—like Indiana Michigan Power—have turned away prospective solar customers after hitting the cap and subsequently limited the available credits for excess energy.

These bills would remove that cap altogether, allowing customers to receive credits from their providers when they produce more energy than they use—regardless of the market demand. 

“Eliminating the unnecessary, arbitrary cap on rooftop solar is long overdue,” said Laura Sherman, president of the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council. “Restricting solar growth needlessly stifles the state’s clean energy workforce and creates roadblocks for homeowners facing outage after outage who want to generate their own power.”

Rebates for Solar Systems

House Bill 4840 was introduced by McKinney in June and has since been referred to the House Committee on Energy, Communications, and Technology. If it’s signed into law, residential and commercial customers who install solar energy systems would be eligible for new rebates.

Specifically, the legislation calls for new rebates of $500 per kilowatt for new solar energy systems and $300 per kilowatt-hour for the installation of new battery storage systems. 

Solar arrays and battery systems together can cost between $25,000 and $35,000 to install, according to the US Department of Energy, but the state-level incentives—when paired with 30% federal tax credits—are designed to make them more attainable for the average Michigander. 

The rebates would also be doubled for low-income families, which state officials estimate would be enough to cover half the cost of the installation, before the federal tax credit is even taken into account

McKinney told Michigan Advance the new rebates would pull from both state-level investments and federal funding—specifically from clean energy funding provided through both President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act as well as the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act. 

“The Federal government is providing generous assistance to make solar possible for people at all income levels; Michigan families deserve to access this assistance,” Angana Shah, policy manager for Michigan United said in a statement. “We deserve the freedom to generate and take more control of our power. These laws remove the obstacles to that freedom.”

Virtual Power Plants

House Bill 4839 was introduced in June by state Rep. Jen Hill (D-Marquette) and has since been referred to the House Committee on Energy, Communications and Technology. 

If it’s signed into law later this year, the Michigan Public Service Commission would be required to establish new rules for connecting home energy storage systems to the state’s electrical grid, and enable customers to receive more compensation for generating any excess electricity.

The bill would reportedly offer greater compensation to low-to-moderate income customers, and those who live in areas facing more outages, or greater impacts of pollution and climate change. It also aims to allow those who generate their own power to opt into the wholesale energy market, while prohibiting utility companies from accessing any at-home generation systems.

“The benefits that come from a private person or a private business contributing back to the grid, those provide real value to the utilities. And so we want to make sure that those benefits are compensated back to the person who is making it possible,” Hill told Michigan Advance.

Federal Grant Funding 

Michigan lawmakers will reconvene in Lansing in early September—and clean energy advocates said that’s perfect timing to comply with the looming Sept. 26 deadline to apply for federal grants through the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Solar for All” competition

That program—announced by Biden’s administration earlier this summer as part of the Inflation Reduction Act’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund—offers $7 billion in grant funding for up to 60 different projects designed to increase access to solar energy for low-income households. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration last month filed a notice of intent to apply for the funds. 

“With billions of dollars on the table, Michigan has an excellent opportunity to put policies in place that will make the state more competitive for Inflation Reduction Act funds,” Jenna Warmuth, a regional director for Vote Solar, said in a statement. “We know that Michigan’s clean energy future is worth investing in. Now we need our lawmakers to prove that they know it, too.”

READ MORE: New Clean Energy Laws to Cut Costs for Michiganders

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Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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