Lower solar prices, tax credits entice homeowners, small businesses

By Jay Greene


Homeowners and small businesses continue to use federal tax credit incentives and existing net metering rules to make private investments in rooftop solar.

Mark Hagerty, president of Michigan Solar Solutions, said he is “keeping very busy with homeowners and small companies that are willing to make the investments, lower their electricity costs and recoup their investments in seven to eight years.”

The Upper Peninsula is developing into one of the more active renewable markets, where 30 or more private homeowners have installed solar panels in an effort to reduce the highest electricity costs in Michigan at 23 cents per kilowatt, said Melissa Davis, executive director of the Houton Energy Efficiency Team.

“When prices skyrocketed after (a) coal plant closed, everybody started installing solar,” Davis said.

Besides the 30 percent federal tax credit for small wind and solar through Dec. 31, the Michigan Public Service Commission said in a report that wind and solar costs continue to drop, making both renewable sources cheaper than building new gas or coal-fired power plants.

At winery Black Star Farms LLC, CFO Michael Lahti said the Traverse City-based business’ 53 kilowatt, 204-panel solar array recently came online with a goal to produce about 15 percent of its annual electricity usage. It purchases electricity from Cherryland Electric Co-Op in Grawn.

“We have five different buildings, and our goal is to be as sustainable as possible with energy costs,” said Lahti. “Our project will be paid off in seven years, and afterward the savings go to our bottom line.”

Besides Black Star, a number of other wineries are installing solar, Clark said, including Chateau Chantal Winery, Good Neighbor and Round Barn Winery.

Under Michigan law, 50 percent of renewable energy must be built by utilities and 50 percent purchased. This mix caused a number of independent power producers, including Apex Clean Energy and Chart House Energy LLC, to enter the market in Michigan.

Chart House Energy CEO Rob Rafson said he believes solar will grow annually at a 30 percent clip as long as the federal tax incentive is at play.

Last summer, Chart House installed a 520 kilowatt system at Holland-based Agritek Industries, which provides about 33 percent of the facility’s power.

The Holland Board of Public Works, which last year shuttered its coal-fired plant, also has been increasing its renewable energy production to about 20 percent of its electricity needs for its 28,000 customers.

Jay Greene: (313) 446-0325. Twitter: @jaybgreene