Utilities Offer Way To Invest In Solar

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Both of Southeastern Michigan’s major power utility companies – DTE Energy and Consumers Energy – say they are committed to embrace the renewable energy grid in the most equitable way possible. In a Monday morning webinar with Southeastern Michigan’s media, they explained how they plan on providing ordinary individuals with the opportunity to subsidize and accelerate small-scale investment in decarbonizing the power grid through Mi Community Solar.

“Together, Michigan’s largest energy producers are promoting and delivering projects that serve like-minded communities and consumers, who share a common interested in providing economic, environmental, and community benefits of community energy and solar power,” DTE Energy’s Knox Cameron told journalists, October 25. “Together, we’re empowering Michiganders to invest in solar power in the most inclusive and equitable way.”

Mi Community Solar is a partnership between both utilities. It is part of an overall plan to transition to sustainable power grid production. Consumers Energy is attempting to get 40 percent
of its power from renewable resources by 2040. Consumers Energy is pursuing similar projects through “solar gardens”, which are essentially brownfields and other underutilized land being transformed into solar power plants.

“At Consumer’s Energy, we have one of the boldest plans in the country to invest in renewable energy, including 8,000 megawatts of new solar energy over the next two decades. We are all in on solar,” Consumer Energy’s Sarah Nielsen said.

DTE Energy announced last summer that they are planning on tripling their solar capacity with projects starting in 2022. The company plans to go from 2.2 million solar panels across the lower peninsula next to year to about 11 million individual panels by 2040. For DTE Energy, this includes a 20 megawatt solar project on top of a capped landfill on the border of Ann Arbor and Pittsfield Township, which is expected to start providing electrons into Washtenaw County’s homes and businesses starting sometime in 2023.

“For DTE’s wind and solar program, the cost is $1.01 to support five percent solar energy. Because DTE’s renewable energy generation currently provides 15 percent to all customer’s energy, spending one dollar brings a customer up to 20 percent,” DTE Energy Spokesman Peter Ternes said.

Both companies presented their Mi Green Power subscription program as an easier and less expensive way to invest in green power rather than a household investing in their own private solar panels; thereby making it more equitable and accessible for low-income people and investors to invest in the transition away from fossil fuels without the expense of having to purchase your own panels. Members of the public will be able to invest as little as $1.01 per month at DTE Energy.

“Mi Community Solar is not just about the great work we’re doing today to build communities of solar uses; it’s about more solar projects to come from DTE and other Michigan energy companies,” DTE Renewable Energy Solutions Director Brian Calka said in a joint press release. “Non-regulated local energy projects have the potential to drive higher costs to Michigan consumers. We are also providing a much faster pace gaining economies of scale that can’t be replicated on the private market.”

A big deal was made on emphasizing the local nature of the investment, as opposed to out of state investments. When you subscribe to the program you will receive an extra amount on your bill, which is offset by a credit from the utility. Just how much you get will depend on what package you choose to invest in. Two cents per kilowatt hour if you invest in the wind-power package, Calka said; or three cents per kilowatt hour if you invest in the package that splits investment into wind and solar.

Interested Michiganders can invest into half a “solar block”, which represents half a kilowatt of solar energy. The utilities will then take that investment and utilize it to build solar projects larger and faster than they would otherwise be able to. According to the utilities, about 500 customers are signing up per week.

While each block generally costs $9 per month, the program will give you a credit back on your bill, depending on the energy market and how much renewable power was actually generated. This obviously will vary with climate and market conditions, but according to Nielsen, this averaged $4.40 per block per month this year.

“By participating in community solar programs through the energy providers, customers can participate in the growth and benefits of solar energy developments in our state,” Consumers Energy Spokeswoman Katelyn Carey said in an email to the Sun Times News.

According to the utility companies, there are currently over 41,000 customers who have already invested in solar and wind programs to gradually phase out fossil fuel based power plants. The utilities also said that well over 400 businesses – from small businesses to big Michigan names like General Motors, the University of Michigan, the State of Michigan, and Ford.

Image credit: DTE Energy

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