By Lily Bohlke - Public News Service

Utilities in Michigan are raising awareness about the ways consumers can get involved in cleaning up the energy grid, including by participating in community solar projects.

The projects involve multiple customers subscribing to solar-energy generation, and then getting credits for the energy produced on their monthly bills.

Sarah Nielsen, executive director of transportation, renewables and storage for Consumers Energy, the largest utility in the state, said it allows people to support renewable energy without the upfront costs of, for instance, installing solar panels on their houses.

She pointed out it is a more equitable way of navigating the transition to clean energy.

"And by the way, we always support union jobs going to local workers at our solar facilities," Nielsen asserted. "Any approach to fighting climate change must ensure that the transition to that sustainable economy is just, and that workers are not left behind."

Nielsen added at Consumers Energy, as part of its plan to invest in 8,000 megawatts of solar over the next two decades, it has a Solar Gardens program, where customers pay a small fee to subscribe to a desired amount of solar garden "blocks" and receive a credit back for the energy those blocks generate.

Knox Cameron, manager of renewable energy solutions for DTE Energy, which services the Detroit area, noted they also have the subscription-based MI (pronounced 'my') Green Power Renewable Energy Program.

He said they partner with community organizations and work to make it accessible to low-income communities. He noted people can enroll for as little as $1 per month.

"We believe that no one should be barred from investing in our state's growing renewable-energy marketplace," Cameron emphasized.

A new study from Michigan State University pointed out that expansions to community solar projects could contribute $1.5 billion to the state's economy over 30 years, not to mention the benefits of transitioning away from fossil-fuel energy for climate change mitigation.

Photo - Consumers Energy