Bishop W.L. Starghill, Jr of the Michigan Democratic Black Caucus is a member of Michigan Energy Promise, an alliance defending Michigan energy policies.
To build an inclusive future for all people, we need an energy policy that treats everybody the same. Energy needs to be affordable. It needs be reliable. It needs to be clean.
Michiganders from all walks of life worked together in 2016 to develop a plan to achieve those goals, and we should not allow it to be disrupted by solar lobbyists aiming to make money on the backs of low-income Michiganders.
Certain out-of-state groups are promoting the private solar industry as the only answer to our clean energy needs. They’re wrong. Private rooftop solar systems are a good option for people who can afford them, but Michigan needs clean power that is universal and supports every family and business all the time and in every season.
It costs tens of thousands of dollars to install a private solar system on a home, which makes it unrealistic for the majority of Michiganders. Solar developers now have lobbyists in Lansing trying to convince our lawmakers that customers without these private solar systems should subsidize the costs for the privileged few who can afford rooftop solar. If wealthier customers choose to invest in private solar, that’s great, but they can’t expect the rest of Michigan’s households to subsidize their costs.
This energy inequality is rooted in how Michigan energy companies compensate people who install solar panels on their homes. Those customers, unlike most of us, get a special rate that does not factor in what it costs to maintain a reliable and resilient power grid.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike voted three years ago to reduce private solar subsidies and create a long-term energy strategy that put Michigan on a path to be a national leader in the transition to clean energy. Just in the past two years, we have seen commitments to reduce carbon emissions by 80% and renewable investments that go well beyond current state mandates.
The 2016 energy law recognizes renewables like solar and wind power have come a long way. They are now such mature energy sources that they no longer need subsidies—unless your goal is to subsidize private homeowners or line the pockets of out-of-state companies.
Solar energy is an important part of Michigan’s answer to a cleaner energy future, but we should not carve out special deals for any one kind of energy—or one kind of energy consumer—that upend the balance we are trying to achieve for all Michiganders. Everyone deserves clean, reliable and affordable energy, regardless of where they live or their economic situation.
The private solar lobbyists in Lansing are pushing for a system that allows private homeowners to put a Cadillac-style energy system on their rooftops and pass the bill for maintaining the roads on to the rest of us.
That’s not fair. That’s not right. Let’s stick with the path we’re on.