- A 10-MW community solar program proposed by Consumers Energy is under fire for the way it values the energy produced, and for what critics see as an unfair attempt to keep third-party developers from participating, Midwest Energy News reports
- The utility counters that it is not keeping developers from participating, but specified that they would need to enter into a power purchase agreement with Consumers.
- The three-year pilot was developed to test customer interest in solar and to assess the utility's Value of Solar tariff.
Critics of Consumers Energy's community solar project are walking a thin line. On the one hand, they want it to succeed. But on the other, according to the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the program aims to monopolize the community solar market by requiring developers to enter into power purchase agreements with the utility.
"While it is a good thing that Consumers Energy is exploring community solar, the company’s initial proposal has serious flaws," the group said in a recent filing. "The company’s bill credit formula undervalues distributed solar and its pricing terms lack transparency and accountability."
The group also said Consumers opposes third parties from owning or developing community solar projects, "effectively seeking to be the sole monopoly provider of community solar within its service territory. This will foreclose the healthy competition that is essential to hold down costs and will leave customers with no choice but to accept Consumers Energy’s terms or none at all."
Consumers disagrees, noting that it is not keeping third-party developers out, but will not artificially raise the tariff.
"The solar program will allow the company to test public support for unsubsidized solar development as well as determine system modifications necessary to administer the solar program," it said in a filing.
According to Midwest Energy News, the Michigan Public Service Commission is expected to rule on the proposal within a month.
Consumers told regulators it expects to construct the 10 MW of solar through larger facilities than usual, each greater than 500 kW, in order to achieve economies of scale. The projects "will be located in a highly-visible area to further educate and promote solar energy in Michigan," the company said.
Michigan currently has only 20 MW of solar generation throughout the state, Midwest Energy News reports, and the Lansing Board of Water and Light is planning 20 MW more through a utility-scale installation.