August 28, 2014 at 1:00 am

THINK

Energy freedom good for consumers

Energy freedom would streamline the net metering rules that govern how much energy consumers feed back into to the grid. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)

Should residents and businesses be allowed to generate energy and get a fair price for power they produce? Of course they should. But Michigan still restricts the ability for people to generate energy, erecting legal and regulatory barriers between citizens and our energy markets. Thatís why we introduced a package of legislation called energy freedom.

The energy market is changing here in Michigan and around the world. The price and performance of clean and renewable energy systems is getting better and better. Wind power is coming online more quickly and at a lower price than anticipated. Because of innovations and production improvements-some developed right here in Michigan, the price of photovoltaic panels is plummeting, even as their effectiveness increases. As a result, solar power in Michigan is on track to be competitive in price, reaching grid parity much sooner than previously expected. Australia and sunnier parts of the United States have already passed this tipping point, releasing a torrent of new opportunities and investment. The moment that the price of on-site renewable energy production reaches parity with large scale production in our state, we need to be ready with policies that give citizens the freedom to choose their own energy destiny.

Energy freedom improves Michiganís rules for net metering, institutes market-based pricing for renewable energy producers, allows group-owned energy projects, and calls for grid improvements to improve reliability and safety.

HB 5673, introduced by Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, would streamline the net metering rules that govern how much energy consumers feed back into to the grid. Currently, Michigan law limits the number of participants and the size of these systems so that customers only generate what they use. This bill would allow more robust investments in generation at homes, farms and businesses, eliminating the government regulations that prevent income opportunities and allowing people to get maximum productivity from their land. Especially in rural areas, better net metering rules would be a boon to farmers who could realize untapped opportunities with wind, biomass and methane digesters.

HB 5674, introduced by Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, would allow citizens and businesses to invest cooperatively in renewable energy systems. Cooperating on larger-scale systems off-site makes sense economically and is necessary for residents who lease or those whose locations are unsuited to wind or solar generation. Thatís why this bill would open up new opportunities for investment in community energy gardens. Other states, like Minnesota, have already enacted similar policies focusing on solar. Our legislation, however, goes beyond solar, opening up opportunities to invest in any renewable energy source. Community energy gardens would help facilitate investment by residential customers and cooperative investments by farmers or agricultural processers who have enormous unrealized potential to combine their efforts to produce power.

HB 5676, introduced by Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, creates a framework for pricing the power generated by consumers. When people invest in energy generation, it is only fair that they be paid for excess electricity they put back on the grid. Fair-value pricing rules require the utilities to compensate small-scale power producers according to a market-based schedule. If you generate electricity when demand is high, you would be paid more than if you generate electricity when demand is low. By pricing the power based on the value of the energy produced, we take into account the needs of utilities and consumers, arriving at a fair and dependable rate.

Right now, our electrical grid is designed primarily to deliver power to customers from a centrally located power plant, and we have all seen the results of its vulnerability to systemic failure. HB 5675, introduced by Rep. Jon Switalski, D-Warren, proposes a smarter and more capable grid. The bill directs the Michigan Public Service Commission to do a comprehensive study analyzing grid quality to see where infrastructure improvements are needed, both for increased reliability and to safely facilitate the addition of energy generated from renewable sources in distributed locations.

Energy freedom is a bi-partisan and market-based approach to meet our changing energy needs. It is pro-jobs, pro-environment, and pro-freedom. Thatís why weíre so excited about removing unnecessary regulatory restrictions on Michiganís citizens. By empowering consumers to generate renewable energy, energy freedom will put thousands of skilled trades people to work, installing and maintaining systems. Energy freedom will also be a big step towards a more secure and self-sufficient energy system in Michigan.

State Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, represents the 108th District.
State Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, represents the 74th District.
State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, represents the 53rd District.
State Rep. Jon Switalski, D-Warren, represents the 28th District.