Opinion: Affordable energy for underserved communities

Jane C. Garcia

The energy strategy Michigan framed out in our 2016 energy law promises a clean energy future that is also affordable and reliable for all Michigan residents.

It is particularly vital for Michigan’s low-income and underserved communities that our leaders in Lansing stay the course we all worked together to map out so that we keep the benefits of clean and renewable energy equally accessible to everyone. Special interests are pushing for government subsidies for private solar homeowners and shifting costs to low-income residents.

DTE line crews repair a power line along Caniff Street near Oakland Street in Detroit on Sunday, February 24, 2019, as high winds caused power outages in the area.

And it’s happening all over the country. I spend part of my year in Arizona, and my neighbors there are dealing with the same energy issues we have in Michigan: special interests trying to secure a deal that is counterproductive for local communities.

Luckily, Michigan has taken a positive and inclusive approach to clean energy. Our local energy companies are reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent with new technology, higher efficiency standards and substantial investments in universal renewables that benefit everyone. This comprehensive approach aligns with the recommendations of the scientific community, and it benefits communities across Michigan.

Latin Americans for Social Economic Development (LA SED) has been serving Michigan’s Hispanic community and other communities of color since 1965. We know the vital importance of access to clean, affordable, reliable energy for the people in our communities, many of whom cannot afford the upfront costs of private solar or live in multi-family dwellings where private solar simply isn’t an option.

Michigan’s current energy strategy creates a stable and predictable energy environment where both families and businesses can thrive without the threat of a chaotic, unpredictable energy market or a group in the solar industry that does not play by the same rules or is held accountable.

We’re concerned by a recent report from the Campaign for Accountability that indicates the “[private] solar industry revealed promises of clean energy at reduced cost have proven deceptive” and that “unscrupulous actors have exploited vulnerable populations, preying on the elderly and those on fixed incomes.” While we recognize many private solar companies act in good faith, unethical practices are particularly worrisome in communities where English isn’t the first language. In other states, where solar subsidies were requested, taxpayers and homeowners have been left with empty promises and higher energy costs.

Climate change must — and is — being addressed. Many of Michigan’s coal plants are retiring and being replaced by new technology and smarter, greener sources of energy. Michigan will produce 35 percent of its energy through renewables and energy efficiency by 2025, and 50 percent by 2030.

The policies being pushed by out-of-state special interests would disrupt Michigan’s balanced approach to cleaner energy for everyone. We should reject their efforts and make sure our state delivers on the promise of a clean energy future in ways that include everyone.

Jane C. Garcia chairs the Board for Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development (LA SED).