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Consumers Energy to expand solar energy program

Consumers Energy is expanding a very popular solar energy program in Michigan. The program allows people with solar panels on their homes or businesses to sell some of the power they generate to the power company. 

State regulators are directing the utility giant to expand the program.

Consumers Energy will double the amount of power it will pay people for. All utility providers in Michigan are investing in more renewable energy. State law requires them to get at least 10% of their power from renewable sources by 2015.

Consumers Energy spokesman Dan Bishop says they’re about halfway to meeting that goal. Bishop says solar plays a role. But even with the planned expansion, the solar program will make up less than one half of one percent of Consumers’ renewable energy plan.

“Our analysis is that wind is the most economic way to meet this standard and serve our customers in the best way.”

Bishop says Consumers Energy is working on building wind farms in Michigan.

Madeleine Weil is a policy advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center. She’s been pushing state regulators to expand solar programs mainly to spur economic development. Weil says already more than 120 Michigan companies employ more than 6,000 people in the solar industry.

“It’s awfully helpful to them to have utility programs that support the industry that they’re a part of so that consumers can buy the products that they’re producing.”

Weil is also asking state regulators to direct DTE Energy to expand their solar program as well. DTE plans to file an updated renewable energy plan this month.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.