Howard Learner Op-Ed in Crain’s Detroit: Savvy Policies can Grow Michigan’s Renewable Energy Jobs

As part of our efforts to support clean energy, ELPC has been publishing a series of reports that examine the breadth of the wind power and solar energy industries in Midwest states. Find this year’s Michigan report here.

Along 12 Mile Road outside of Detroit, 24-year-old John Jevahirian of Michigan Solar Solutions goes to work feeling like a superhero: “Every day I sell a solar panel, I feel like I’m saving the world.”

John is among 9,500 Michiganders working in the renewable energy business sector. From Heritage Garden Wind Farm in the U.P., to Energy Components Group in the Thumb, more than 300 Michigan companies engage in the clean energy business supply chain.

That includes more than “just” manufacturing solar panels and wind turbine blades. It also includes the polysilicon which Hemlock Semiconductor produces in Saginaw County, and the power controllers that SES Flexcharge sells around the world from Charlevoix. These clean energy jobs and businesses include solar panel installers and wind farm construction companies, technical analysts, project developers, and engineering and finance companies.

Smart policies make a difference. To keep growing Michigan jobs and businesses in the renewable energy supply chain, Michigan should keep advancing supportive policies to help drive the market.

Other Midwest states are stepping up with forward-looking policies and actions. The clean energy market is rapidly growing and is highly competitive. Michigan can’t stand still if it wants to gain — let alone retain — its market share in the clean energy economy.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center’s new Michigan Clean Energy Business Supply Chain Report available at elpc.org/michigansupplychain provides both a directory of Michigan solar energy and wind power companies and a set of targeted policy recommendations.

Here are some focused Michigan policies to accelerate renewable energy in ways that are good for both the economy and environment:

  • Fix the distributed generation tariff: If you put solar panels on your roof or wind turbines on your land, you receive a bill credit for the surplus energy generated — beyond what you use — that’s added to the grid. Michigan law requires that credit to be fair and equitable, but the credit currently does not reflect the full monetary value of solar. That’s unfair, and the imbalance discourages people’s investment in distributed solar and wind energy generation. The Public Service Commission should redesign the DG tariff to restore balance and fairness in pricing and valuing distributed renewable energy generation.
  • Make community solar more accessible: What if you can’t afford to install solar panels on your roof, or you don’t own the building? What if your house faces west or is shaded by tall, leafy trees or other buildings? Community solar programs offer an alternative. You should be able to buy into a community solar array just like you’d buy a share of vegetables through community-supported agriculture or participate in a community garden. Your utility bill would be adjusted by your participatory share of the community solar project. The Michigan Legislature should pass House Bill 4995, which would allow community solar across the state. Clean energy should be accessible for everyone.
  • Accelerate Michigan’s renewable energy standard: The current Michigan statute requires utilities to provide renewable energy as 15 percent of their total supply mix by 2021. Illinois, Minnesota and other states are stepping forward with at least 25 percent by 2025. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer should challenge the Michigan Legislature to set a more aggressive renewable electricity standard to grow Michigan jobs and businesses in the renewable energy sector.

Whitmer recently signed bills smoothing out inconsistent taxation for solar panels on homes and businesses. That removed an obstacle and confusion. Consumers Energy has announced plans to buy or build 5,000 megawatts of solar energy generating capacity over the next decade — that’s enough to power almost 1 million Michigan homes. This is important progress, and there’s more work to be done.

Michigan should be a leader in seizing its competitive advantages to grow the clean energy economy. Let’s accelerate Michigan’s renewable energy business future. It’s good for jobs, good for economic growth and good for the environment.

This op-ed ran in Crain’s Detroit on December 4, 2019

BACK TO BLOG

ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

Support ELPC’s Next 25 Years of Successful Advocacy

Donate Now