Midwest Energy News: Critics say Michigan utility aims to ‘monopolize’ community solar

Michigan’s first proposed large-scale community solar program is coming under fire from clean-energy advocates who say it would prevent independent third parties from developing their own programs.

Within the next month, the Michigan Public Service Commission is expected to rule on Consumers Energy’sproposed 10 MW community solar pilot program, which would be the first program of its kind from one of the two major investor-owned utilities here. Smaller-scale projects are underway or in development elsewhere in the state.

But a group of clean-energy advocacy groups have intervened in the case before the MPSC, claiming that Consumers’ proposal would “monopolize” the community solar market, as the utility seeks to prevent independent third parties from developing projects within its service territory.

The utility disputes this point, saying third parties are allowed to develop projects within the program as long as they enter into power-purchase agreements with Consumers.

Further, advocates have raised concerns about the way Consumers has determined a value of solar, a contentious undertaking in other states where utilities and consumer advocates have argued over how much solar users should be compensated for generating the energy. Critics of the plan say Consumers is undervaluing customers’ investments.

The solar coalition — made up of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Ecology Center and the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association — also says the utility is missing opportunities for strategic site planning, which could include contaminated brownfield properties around the state.

Brad Klein, staff attorney with the Chicago-based ELPC, said shutting out third parties is a “major issue.”

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