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Heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition

Michigan Environmentalists Push Solar Requirements In All Newly Built Homes

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Image credit: Jake Neher/WDET

The state campaign by Environment Michigan is aiming for legislation that would require newly built homes in Michigan to be equipped with solar panels.

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The citizen-based environmental advocacy project Environment Michigan is joining a national push to create more solar-powered homes throughout the country. The state campaign is aiming for legislation that would require all newly built homes in Michigan to be equipped with solar panels on the roof.

Nathan Murphy is the State Director of Environment Michigan and he says that the best time to equip a residence with solar panels is when it’s being built.

We are missing a lot of opportunities to lower utility bills and help our environment by doing solar panels when it makes the most sense,” says Murphy of the need to put solar panels into Michigan’s building standards for new homes.

Popular, Legislative Support

Murphy hopes the state will pass a law within the next few years. There is already a bill in Michigan’s House (introduced by State Rep.Yousef Rabhi) that, if passed, would commit the state to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy. Part of that transition, says Murphy, would be updating Michigan’s building code to include solar panel requirements. 

However, Murphy says that he envisions the future building code to have “some wiggle room” for houses built in heavily wooded areas and other places that don’t receive much direct sunlight. 

Murphy points to a 2018 Morning Consult poll which shows that “a majority of American adults would be in favor of their state requiring solar installations on new homes.” 

What’s This Going To Cost?

According to the Solar Energies Industry Association, “the cost to install solar has dropped by more than 70 percent over the last decade, leading the industry to expand into new markets and deploy thousands of systems nationwide.”

Murphy notes the quickly dropping price of solar panels as well and says that the lower the prices, solar energy “just becomes a better and better idea to put in front of people.”

As far as how the solar panel requirement would affect the price of newly built homes, Murphy says there are a lot variables to take into consideration, “because the cost of solar panels keep going down and it also depends on the solar potential of each particular home.” He says, if he had to make a financial estimate, “typically you’re talking about $5,000 to $20,000 in cost, but that gets paid back with lower utility bills over time.”

Environmental Impact

In the same way the cost of a home with solar panels varies, Murphy says that when looking at the potential environmental impact, “there’s no quick easy answer.”

He adds that the current energy offset of having solar panels in the state of Michigan accounts for about “30 to 50 percent or even a little more… but keep in mind ,solar panels continue to get more efficient.”

Another benefit for everyone, according to Murphy, would be a boost to overall energy grid resilience. “A number of states had come to the conclusion that solar panels on homes improve grid resiliency,” says Murphy who points out that “as we see more extreme weather events due to climate change, [solar panels and increased grid resilience] help people keep the lights on in their homes and keep their food from spoiling in the refrigerator.” 

On homes, churches and larger commercial structures, Murphy says that solar panels are becoming an increasingly common addition.

Michigan has a pretty good environment for companies that know how to install panels on existing structure,” says Murphy. He recommends that if you’re interested, ask a building contractor or realtor for a connection to people with expertise solar in panel installation. 

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Annamarie Sysling, Environmental Reporter and Producer, Detroit Today

Annamarie Sysling is a producer for “Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson.” When she’s not at work, Sysling is likely walking or biking somewhere in the city, listening to a neuroscience podcast or eating ice cream.

annamarie.sysling@wdet.org Follow @asysling

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