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5:19 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

DTE, Consumers should spend excess surcharges on solar, say solar proponents

Costs for solar panels are dropping rapidly, according to solar energy proponents
Credit Photo by Haris Alibasic / City of Grand Rapids

Michigan's two largest utilities, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, have about $26 million in renewable energy surcharges in the kitty, after both companies overestimated how much their renewable energy projects would cost.

Now, a solar work group convened by the Michigan Public Service Commission recommends, rather than returning it to taxpayers, the companies should invest the money in new solar projects.

Only about 1/4 of 1% of Michigan's energy comes from solar.

Douglas Jester is with 5 Lakes Energy, a renewable energy consulting firm that was part of the work group.

He says it makes sense to invest in solar energy as well as wind, even though wind is a cheaper form of energy.

"Wind in Michigan tends to produce at night and in the spring and fall, when power demands are low, so solar is more valuable even though it's more expensive," he says.

Until recently, the utilities collected a surcharge on each customer's bill of about $2.50.

That money is intended to reimburse the companies for the costs of renewable energy projects.

State law would permit the companies to keep the excess surcharges until the year 2029, returning it to ratepayers at that time.

A spokesman for Consumers Energy says the company is looking at the recommendation.