Key takeaways


magine powering your home with solar energy without having to install a single panel on your roof. This dream is becoming a reality for many Americans through community solar programs, and Michigan could be next in line.

With new legislation on the horizon, the Great Lakes State is on the cusp of joining the ranks of states that support community solar initiatives. Let's dive into the nitty-gritty of these upcoming bills, see what they mean for Michiganders, and zoom out on how community solar progress is spreading across the U.S.

What is Community Solar and How Does It Work?

Understanding Community Solar

Community solar is a way for many people to share the benefits of one big solar installation. Unlike traditional rooftop solar systems, community solar projects are typically located off-site and can serve dozens or even hundreds of consumers. This means that even if you can’t install solar panels on your own property, you can still access solar energy.

How Community Solar Works

When you subscribe to a community solar project, you essentially buy or lease a portion of the solar array. The electricity your share generates is credited to your utility bill, reducing your overall energy costs and offering the cheapest solar system alternative. This setup is perfect for renters, homeowners with unsuitable roofs, and businesses that want solar energy without installing their own high output PV panels.

Benefits of Community Solar

Community solar offers numerous advantages:

  • Inclusive Access: It democratizes access to solar energy, making it available to more people.
  • Cost Savings: Subscribers can reduce their electricity bills, often saving up to 15%.
  • Environmental Impact: Supporting solar energy helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.

The New Bills in Michigan

A diverse group of supporters from all over Michigan backed Senate Bills 152 and 153 of 2023. These bills would let residents sign up for offsite solar arrays and earn credits for the energy these solar projects generate. If passed, Michigan would become the 23rd state to support community solar.

Now, let's dive into the key points of the new law:

  • Non-Utility Ownership: Community solar projects must be owned independently, paving the way for more competition and innovation.
  • Subscription Choices: Customers can subscribe to off-site solar installation in MI and receive bill credits for the electricity generated by their share.
  • Supporting Low-Income Groups: At least 30% of the electricity produced must serve low-income households or organizations, promoting fair access to the most efficient solar power.
  • Subscription Mobility: Subscriptions are transferable and portable, meaning subscribers can keep their subscription even if they move within the same electric provider's area.

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Support and Opposition

The legislation received enthusiastic backing from both sides of the aisle, particularly from Republicans in Northern Michigan where electricity costs are higher due to the extensive infrastructure required to serve the region. State Sen. Ed McBroom, a Vulcan Republican, teamed up with State Sen. Jeff Irwin, a Democrat from Ann Arbor, to co-sponsor the bills.

Although the new legislation has a lot of backing, Michigan's two largest investor-owned utilities, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, are strongly against it. They claim that community solar could mean extra expenses for those who don’t participate because of the required upgrades to the distribution network. DTE spokesperson Peter Ternes mentioned that the community solar legislation is “unnecessary” and would “allow developers to cherry-pick customers and force the utility’s remaining customers to subsidize the program – challenging affordability for our customers.”

However, community solar supporters believe the advantages far outweigh the potential costs. They point out that solar developers frequently upgrade the distribution systems, which benefits all customers. Moreover, while utility companies push their own solar initiatives like DTE's MIGreenPower and Consumers' Solar Gardens, community solar advocates criticize these for charging a premium without delivering the financial advantages of ownership.

How the US Embraces Community Solar

National Adoption

Community solar is catching on quickly all over the United States. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the U.S. has installed 6.5 gigawatts of community solar capacity through the first quarter of 2024. This boom is fueled by increasing awareness of solar energy's benefits and encouraging state policies.

States Leading the Way

States like New York, Minnesota, and Massachusetts have been pioneers in adopting community solar programs. Their success stories offer a guide for other states wishing to follow suit. For instance, New York's Community Solar program has enabled thousands of residents to access clean energy, slashing their utility bills and delivering big environmental gains.

Community Solar Leaderboard

Source: The Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Future Projections

The future looks bright for community solar in the U.S. Wood Mackenzie anticipates 7.6 gigawatts of new community solar projects will launch in state markets between 2024 and 2028. By 2026, the entire country’s solar capacity is projected to surpass 10 gigawatts. This surge will open up solar energy to even more people and lower costs, making solar power a practical choice for many.

Prospects of Community Solar in Michigan

When it comes to embracing solar energy, the Great Lakes State might not be at the front of the pack just yet. The main reason could be the lack of a comprehensive Michigan solar program or a variety of appealing incentives.

There is, however, an encouraging sign as Michigan's interest in solar energy is steadily growing. The state has made significant strides, having installed 1,457 MW of solar power capacity which can effectively power up to 258,044 homes. But with solar energy making up just 1.41% of Michigan's total electricity, there is much room for improvement.

With community solar, Michigan's power game is set to level up. Firstly, it provides a gateway for many to access clean energy, especially for those who can't fit solar panels on their property. Plus, it's a friend to your wallet, helping subscribers shave off approximately 10% of their utility bills thanks to cheap solar power.

And let's not forget the broader economic benefits. A study by MSU indicates that community solar could create a whopping 18,500 jobs and attract $1.4 billion in investments.

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There's a world of opportunities in Michigan to tap into the power of community solar. If the right laws are in place to support it, community solar can create meaningful economic, environmental, and social changes for everyone in the state.

With Senate 152 and 153 on the table, Michigan has a real chance to reshape its solar scene, creating a competitive solar market and making green energy accessible for everyone. Despite some challenges and pushback, the perks of community solar make it a solid option for the state's energy strategy.


Key takeaways

  • Community Solar Legislation: Michigan introduces Senate Bills 152 and 153, paving the way for residents to subscribe to off-site solar arrays and receive energy credits.
  • Benefits of Community Solar: Inclusive access, cost savings, and environmental impact make community solar a viable option for many households and businesses.
  • Support and Opposition: While the legislation garners bipartisan support, major utilities like DTE Energy and Consumers Energy express concerns over potential costs and infrastructure impact.
  • National Trends: Community solar is growing across the U.S., with significant capacity and policy support in states like New York, Minnesota, and Massachusetts.
Jul 5, 2024
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