UPPCO prohibits plug-and-play solar systems

Photo: http://plugandplaysolarkits.com While a small plug-and-play solar unit requires electricity to convert DC current to AC current, and puts no electricity into the grid, their use is banned by UPPCO customers due to a 1 percent renewable energy cap under state law.

HOUGHTON — While solar power continues to gain popularity throughout the United States, Michigan law has a cap in place that limits the amount of renewable energy that state residents can generate.

As of July 22, Upper Peninsula Power Company reached its cap for Category 1 renewable energy sources, according to the electric provider’s website. Subsequently, UPPCO is no longer able to enroll new customers in the program, due to state law. This impacts any Upper Peninsula Power Company customers who are interested in installing even small solar units such as plug-and-play portable solar systems that do not return any electricity to the grid.

Joshua Pearce, electrical engineer at Michigan Technological University, and an expert in solar power, said that while UPPCO may have permitted customers in the past to use plug-and-play systems in the past, with the 1 percent arbitrary limit enacted by the state, UPPCO is no longer accepting any form of distributed generation of any kind.

Michigan’s 2008 energy law, which began as Senate bill 437 was sponsored by state Senators Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, and John Proos, R-St. Joseph, was signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder.

“As an electrical engineer, I know we can go up to the teens (in percentages) in solar penetration without the utility doing anything,” Pearce said, “so no extra expenses, no new transmission — nothing — you can go up to the teens, and we’re cut off at one. We have a long way to get to “

While plug-and-play solar units do not generate enough power to distribute electricity to the grid, they can significantly reduce the amount of electricity necessary to most households. Not only is this an economic savings to the consumer, it also reduces the amount of carbon produced by coal-fired electrical generating plants.

In early November,the Louisiana Public Service Commission rejected utility restrictions on solar power and sided with customers who want to install solar panels on their property and receive credit for the power they generate to the grid, while Michigan continues to retain a 1 percent cap.

“Even if the state mandates 5 percent or 10 percent, a lot of people are cut off from it,” Pearce said.

Over the past two years in Louisiana, according to kat.com abc, many of that state’s investor-owned and co-operative utility companies used loopholes in previous net metering rules to cap participation and impose a patchwork of fees, charges, and restrictions on customers who installed solar panels. However, the LPSC instated new rules which create consistency across the state, whereby any residential or business customer will be credited for every kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity they put onto the grid for an equal amount of energy in return during the monthly billing period.

So, while Michigan retains severe restrictions on renewable energy generation, it is a viable, sustainable energy source with no associated carbon footprint or pollution.

“Basically, anyone who can do it legally in this region should. No question,” Pearce said. “The real question is does your particular utility provider allow you to do so at all, and if they do, do they allow plug-and-play?”