Michigan report sparks fears of slowed solar industry

Plans to change net metering programs in Michigan have solar advocates worried that it could slow the rooftop solar industry to a crawl in the state, just as it is beginning to get its industry off the ground.

A report by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) said that by the end of 2016, the state had approximately 219 MW of net metered installations, which is increase of 4.8 MW and a 28% increase over 2015. MPSC does not yet have numbers for 2017, though if the past three years are any indication, it could be posited the numbers will increase again.

The MPSC report also reported the amount of installed solar grew from 361 MW at the end of 2015 to 580 MW in 2016. It projects that when the 2017 are in, that number will grow to 1.2 GW. The report does not indicate the breakdown of the increases between rooftop and utility-scale installations.

Currently, Michigan solar customers are paid retail rates for all excess electricity they export back to the grid by the states’ utilities. The MPSC is currently studying alternatives to the current net metering system and must release a final report by April 20.

Most state solar observers believe the MPSC will recommend changing net metering to a flat rate tariff approximately 5 cents less than the current retail rate.

The tariff system won’t be implemented until 2019, and customers who install systems before then will be grandfathered into the current system for 10 years.

 

 

Installers in the state are worried the tariff will be so complicated it will be difficult to answer customers’ questions concerning payback times for solar-electric installations.

What is most interesting about the MPSC’s decision to change the net metering system, which might inhibit rooftop solar growth, won’t necessarily do anything to slow the utility-scale solar growth that marked much of the solar growth of 2017 in the Wolverine state.

The MPSC spent 2017 quietly setting up a framework that would allow utilities to take advantage of the Public Utilities Regulatory Power Act of 1978 (PURPA), which requires to buy power from independent power producers (IPP) if it is below their cost of generation from other sources, also known as “avoided costs”.

In addition, DTE Energy, a Detroit-area utility, opened the 48 MW Lapeer Solar Park, which single-handedly increased the installed capacity of the state by 47%.