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We’ve Got Issues: New bills would change solar panel rules again

David Cassleman
Sharon and Craig Goble in front of their solar array at their home in Manistee County in 2015.

Thousands of households in Michigan generate their own electricity with solar panels. They’re reimbursed by utility companies for any extra power they put into the grid under a program called net metering. 

But under new rules, those customers are going to get less in return. 


That’s because in 2016, Gov. Rick Snyder signed far-reaching energy legislation that overhauled net metering. The new rules go into effect June 1.  

People who net meter are able to buy power from the grid when they're not producing electricity. They are reimbursed for extra power they put onto the grid at retail rates. In the future, they won't be compensated as generously. 

Katie Carey with Consumers Energy says the new system is more fair.

“We support an approach where all customers who rely on the electric grid pay for their fair share of the costs that it takes to maintain a reliable but also a sustainable energy system,” Carey says. 

Big utilities in the state have argued that regular ratepayers have been subsidizing customers with solar panels under net metering. They say people with solar panels are not covering the costs of maintaining the electrical grid. 

Clean energy advocates disagree and have sharply criticized the new rules. And last week, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers introduced legislation to go back to something closer to the old system. 

The bills would also get rid of a cap that exists on how many people can participate in the program. 

“We’re in a spot right now where we have to open it up so it’s available to more people because it’s going to give more folks the ability to control their costs,” says Rep. Scott Dianda (D-Calumet). 

Dianda, who represents the western Upper Peninsula, says people in his district are being turned away from enrolling in the net metering program because the cap has been reached. 

He says the legislation would also guarantee households a fair value for any power they put onto the grid.

“Because if we’re producing power, and we’re helping the grid, and those investments are made on peoples’ homes and small businesses, that’s going to make a … more reliable grid across Michigan,” Dianda says. 

The chair of the House Energy Committee plans to hold hearings on the legislation later this month.