Why it’s hard for homeowners to go solar in Michigan. (Hint: it’s not the weather.)

For most prospective solar buyers, the biggest obstacle to going solar is the upfront cost.

Republished in part from the original in the Detroit Free Press

Alexa Bush was seven months pregnant in 2021 when the power went out for four days in her Ann Arbor neighborhood. 

“I just have this really vivid memory of getting my toddler and walking up this hill over a downed tree — super pregnant in a pandemic — and being like, ‘I never want to feel this vulnerable again in my life.'”

Bush and her partner, Andrew Billi, had thought about installing solar energy. But those four days without power prompted them to take action.

The couple are among the roughly 8% of American homeowners who have installed solar panels, Pew Research reported last fall. Another 39% are interested in going solar.

Solar energy can offer homeowners like Bush freedom from an aging and increasingly unreliable electric grid, and making solar energy more accessible to Michigan homeowners is an important public policy goal: Renewable energy production is a crucial part of mitigating the impacts of climate change, and of Michigan’s plan to become carbon neutral by mid-century.

But even for middle-class Michigan homeowners, access to solar panels and battery storage often remains stubbornly out of reach.

That’s not due to lack of solar potential. Despite having a reputation for cloudiness, Michigan has sufficient sunlight to generate solar power. Yet the state lags neighboring states Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana that among the national leaders in solar installations. 

For most prospective solar buyers, the biggest obstacle to going solar is the upfront cost. A solar installation costs tens of thousands of dollars, and can take a decade or more to break even over the 25-year average life of a solar array.

Bush acknowledges that she and Billi are lucky — they own a single-family home sturdy enough to have a stable roof, the income and credit history to qualify for a publicly backed loan, and to take advantage of the federal Inflation Reduction Act’s solar power tax credit, and they live in Ann Arbor, where the city helps homeowners obtain bulk discounts on solar installations.

Advocates and industry leaders say advancing residential solar in Michigan comes down to policy at the state and local levels, like the public programs that helped Bush and her partner. State and city governments should expand those offerings, advocates say, standardize permitting and other bureaucratic hurdles to installing solar, and revise state policies that limit the number of homeowners who can sell energy back to the grid under the current rate.

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Without more forward-looking solar policies, they say, Michiganders will miss out on the new federal incentives, and the opportunity to expand the use of renewable energy in the state.

Read the full piece in the Detroit Free Press>>>

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