Solar power changes cause critics to sizzle

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service
LANSING — A new order by the Public Service Commission (PSC) will reduce savings for homes deciding to generate electricity from solar energy, according to some lawmakers. And that means less savings and reduced incentives for anyone hoping to save money by adding solar panels to their home. The solar power community is upset by the change and some legislators are attempting to reverse the effect of the ruling. Under the order, utility companies will have to pay solar households only the wholesale cost for the energy they produce. Utilities must pay a household or small business for putting energy into their grid.

Electric cars fighting for fuel in Michigan

By RILEY MURDOCK
Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan’s automotive future is looking more electric. Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, the state’s two largest utility companies, have announced pilot programs in the coming year that will study the number and efficiency of charging stations and consider improvements to promote the adoption of electric vehicles. The Public Service Commission has held two conferences  on “alternative fuel” vehicles to encourage public discussion of the state’s role in electric vehicle charging, said Nick Assendelft, the media relations and public information specialist for the commission. Participants raised questions about the regulatory framework, such as whether users would pay directly for charging stations or through utility companies, Assendelft said. Pilot programs discussed included initiatives by Consumers Energy and DTE Energy to partner with automakers and charging station companies in places like Ann Arbor and Detroit, Assendelft said.

Utility targets more renewable energy, critics say it’s not enough

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service
LANSING – DTE Energy, a major supplier of electricity to Southeast Michigan, plans to double its renewable energy capacity by 2021. “DTE has about 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity today,” said David Harwood, the company’s director of renewable energy. “What we’re proposing in this new plan that we filed with the Public Service Commission is to increase that capacity to about 2,000 megawatts.”
That’s enough power to serve 800,000 households. In addition to 2.2 million electric customers in Southeast Michigan, the company supplies natural gas to 1.3 million customers in over 500 communities across the state. Currently, Michigan law requires electric utilities to generate at least 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.

More farmers may lease land for solar projects

By AGNES BAO
Capital News Service
LANSING – As solar energy soars in popularity in Michigan, solar leasing has become a  profitable option for farm owners. Under agreements with private solar developers, farmers can earn rental payments varying from $500 to $2,000 per acre per year, said Charles Gould, the bioenergy & agricultural energy conservation educator at Michigan State University Extension. “That’s considerably more than what they would be making from growing crops, grains and corn,” Gould said. “The current market price for those commodities doesn’t approach $1,000  an acre.”
However, owners need to give up use of that land in exchange for signing up, he said. “The lease agreement can be up to 25 to 30 years, so that land is no longer in production.”
The installation of solar energy generation on farmland should follow local master plans and zoning ordinances, according to MSU Extension.

Move underway to continue home weatherization aid

By MAXWELL EVANS
Capital News Service
LANSING — The Legislature is moving to continue helping low-income households become more energy-efficient after a recent lapse in funding. But some community organizations say current funding isn’t enough, and federal changes might jeopardize the program altogether. The state Senate has passed a bill by Sen. Dale Zorn, R-Ida, to extend home weatherization assistance under the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to 2022. State authorization to spend the money ran out last Sept. 30.

Help is out there for people whose homes are cold, drafty

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service
LANSING– Old Man Winter is an expensive guest in a home that hasn’t been weatherized.      
“The first time they think about having to turn the furnace on, people start to panic,” said Steve Taylor, home improvement programs manager at the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency in Traverse City. One way low-income families can reduce their energy costs is through weatherization, the process that makes homes more energy-efficient. Michigan’s Weatherization Assistance Program provides free home energy conservation services to low income residents. These services reduce energy use, which helps to lower utility bills.

Major recycling scam ends in indictment

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — A bogus scheme to build an eco-friendly “green energy” waste processing facility in Detroit defrauded lenders and investors — including Chinese investors hoping to qualify for U.S. visas — of $4,475,000, according to a federal grand jury. Project promoter Ronald Van Den Heuvel promised the victims that his Green Box-Detroit would build and operate a facility to recycle paper, process other waste and produce synthetic fuel, the indictment charged. He also sought approval from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) to issue $95 million to $125 million in tax-exempt bonds toward the project’s $200 million price tag, legal documents said. In a related civil suit against Van Den Heuvel and Green Box-Detroit, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said, “He claimed that he had developed a breakthrough recycling process that could turn post-consumer waste into usable products.

Farmers uninterested in renting land for bioenergy crops

By JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service
LANSING — When Scott Swinton, an agriculture, food and resource economics professor at Michigan State University, asked landowners if they’d be interested in renting their land for bioenergy crops, the initial response was unexpected. “The first thing we found was that a number of people that we sent questionnaires to were hoping MSU wa