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Opinion: Community Solar – a rare opportunity for bipartisanship

“Bipartisan support” is a dying phrase in today’s world. Shades of grey and a spirit of compromise have largely been pushed out by hard delineations between winners and losers. Suffice to say, it’s refreshing when opportunities to buck that trend emerge, which is exactly what we have in House Bills 4715 and 4716, legislation that will open Michigan to community solar and the myriad of economic and environmental benefits it will bring to our great state and its residents.

Michele Hoitenga, Rachel Hood
Michele Hoitenga is the Republican state representative from the 102nd district, which includes Mecosta, Wexford and Osceola counties; Rachel Hood is the Democratic state representative from the 76th district, which includes Grand Rapids.

House Bills 4715 and 4716 remove existing policy restrictions to allow Michigan customers to participate in a community solar project, which is a small-scale, local solar installation where multiple customers can choose to subscribe to a portion of the solar array and receive a credit on their utility bill for their share of the power that is produced.

That’s it. That’s all. No new taxes. No mandatory participation. Just greater access to cost-effective, renewable energy for those who want it, and there are plenty who do, and a more diverse energy base for the state which benefits everyone.

Currently more than 50 percent of Michiganders don’t have access to solar power because they either rent, have roofs unable to support a solar system, are under the jurisdiction of a public utility that won’t allow it, or simply cannot afford the large upfront cost of installing solar panels on their property.

Community solar removes these barriers, connecting those who want solar, but can’t install it where they live, to a local solar installation, providing everyone with equal access to cost effective, reliable renewable energy. And unlike traditional large-scale utility solar installations that often require hundreds of acres of land, community solar projects can be as small as a few acres and can be located almost anywhere – rooftops, parking lots, brownfields, farmland – making the possibilities for development nearly endless.

And that flexibility coupled with the present and growing demand for access to cost effective renewable energy will bring an immediate boost to Michigan’s economy.

Cutting through the red tape that has prevented community solar projects from being developed in Michigan will attract an influx of private investment, create thousands of quality jobs, and generate millions in new tax revenue for municipalities across the state, all while lowering the monthly energy bills for participating consumers by 10 percent or more. And those are just the immediate economic benefits.

Expanding our state’s market for solar energy will also spur continued competition and innovation in the renewable energy markets and reduce how much utilities need to invest in costly infrastructure, saving all ratepayers money in the long run, all while strengthening and diversifying the energy grid we all rely upon.

In short, there’s something for everyone to like when it comes to community solar – new investment, new jobs, supporting farmers, supporting rural communities, supporting the environment, increasing equity in our energy system, lowering energy costs, increasing competition, creating a more resilient grid that can withstand weather events and cyberattacks – regardless of your politics, it’s hard to be against any of those things. Republican or Democrat. Liberal or conservative. Pro-environment or pro-business. Community solar is an undeniable win for every constituency.

It’s refreshing and exceedingly rare to stumble upon opportunities for action that are universally positive, but that’s exactly what Michigan has here in community solar.

It’s time for us to say ‘yes’ to community solar and the undeniable benefits that come with it. Passing House Bills 4715 and 4716 is the first step.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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