Opinion | Lansing is blocking sustainable growth in Grand Rapids

Choosing solar energy isn’t just about reducing health-harming air pollution and protecting Michigan’s natural beauty. It’s also about saving money. And in Grand Rapids it can help save valuable taxpayer dollars.

George Heartwell

George Heartwell served as mayor of Grand Rapids from 2004 to 2016.

Grand Rapids city government works tirelessly to provide essential services at the best value for our community. One way the city can do more is by investing in rooftop solar for city-owned buildings. Under current solar savings policies, the city can sell excess energy back to the grid and get a credit on their bill equal to the retail rate of purchasing electricity. This simple savings mechanism known as "net metering" can help the city and our residents save with solar.

But distributed energy resources like rooftop solar are currently capped at 1 percent for each of Michigan's energy utilities. And we’ve just hit that cap for solar in Consumers Energy territory, Michigan's largest utility, which provides service to Grand Rapids and millions of customers throughout the state. I know from talking to mayors and colleagues from other states that this legislative cap is arbitrary and restrictive. Consumers Energy intends to voluntarily raise that cap to 2 percent and I congratulate them on that decision, but we will need leadership from the legislature for a comprehensive solution.

We also need our state regulators at the Public Service Commission to start planning for what comes next for solar. The Commission is currently considering new electricity rates, and as part of that work must initiate a Value of Solar study so that cities, businesses and families can continue to get a fair value for clean, renewable, homegrown energy they send back to the grid. Michigan: the time to lead on solar is now.

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Gary Lea
Sun, 12/13/2020 - 8:29am

Yeah, I'd read about how established utilities were limiting adoption of solar. Incorporating energy storage into energy generation would ensure robust peak response...AND pave the way for increased renewable sources. Solar plus wind has been there for the taking.

Sun, 12/13/2020 - 1:29pm

Agree, the attention that other states and cities are putting to this issue (even in the Midwest) is impressive, and is making Michigan looks like a comparative backwater. Hopefully, people won’t see this a political issue or environmental issue - though valid, people who frame it that way undercut their goals. If we continue to frame this as an economic and security issue, I believe adoption will be made easier.

Steve Rogers
Mon, 12/14/2020 - 9:11am

Why should you get the retail rate if you oversize? The retail rate includes the cost of wires, transformers, substations, etc. That all has to be paid for. A low income person that can't afford solar panels will end up seeing their rates go up to offset those costs for the utility. Size the installation of the panels correctly to match the load and this won't be a problem.

Chuck Beckler
Mon, 12/14/2020 - 3:46pm

You are clearly a corporate shill simply "copy and pasting" this type of response on any article relating to solar and this cap. Your response has nothing to do with this article and only makes sense if you have an agenda and infuse it with your own understanding of a different parallel conversation to this point. What you just said makes no sense in the context of what George wrote as all he is advising for is the legislature to raise the 1% cap. Who is paying you to voice these copy/pasted opinions?

Chuck Beckler
Mon, 12/14/2020 - 3:47pm

Thank you George for being ahead of the game. This motive and action is about to be needed and highlighted in the weeks ahead.