WBHS Earth Club Goes to the State Senate

Isaac Mintz

WBHS Earth Club went to the Michigan State Senate on Tuesday, March 10 to support bipartisan legislature, Senate Bills 596, 597 and 598.

The trio of senate bills, also known as “Powering Michigan Forward,” were proposed to spearhead the further development of Michigan’s renewable energy. Additionally, they seek to overturn laws passed in 2016 that “capped the amount of small solar, wind and other renewable energy projects in Michigan,” according to a Crain’s Business article.

In 2018, the club installed a 20 kilowatts (20,000 watts of DC power created for every hour in perfect conditions) solar array powerful enough to power the entire science department’s energy consumption. The current legislation imposes a system size limit in order to receive the “fair value tariff,” which credits those who generate solar an amount equal to the retail cost of energy. The proposed legislation (SB 596) would increase the limit 500 kW.

Earth Club installs the solar panels in 2018

In addition, the current legislation has imposed a 1% limit on renewable energy connected to the energy grid. If a solar company, such as DTE or Consumers Energy, had more than 1% of their respective energy connections be renewable energy, they would not be obligated to provide a “fair-value tariff.” The proposed legislation (SB 597) seeks to rid the 1% limit.

Senate Bill 598 seeks to eliminate the “distributed generation tariff,” which taxes those who generate solar energy to offset the costs of redistributing the generated energy across the grid. The EARTH Club sees this as a barrier, as the energy generated by the school goes directly to the fire station approximately 500 feet away.

“I hope students got a better understanding of the legislative process and how they can have a voice,” said Joshua Barclay, club sponsor and AP physics teacher.

From left to right, seniors Isaac Mintz, Abbaas Hakim, Kyler Hwa, Jacqueline and Julianne Thomas, alongside sponsor Joshua Barclay

“I thought it was a very unique experience to be in front of legislators who make large scale decisions for our state, and to be able to give them a student’s perspective on an issue that I think is of utmost importance in Michigan,” said senior Abbaas Hakim.

“It was very interesting to talk to these state senators and be a part of the state lawmaking process,” said senior Kyler Hwa. “Overall, it was a great way to get exposure for our Earth Club and publicize what we’re fighting for.”

Senior Jacqueline Thomas said she enjoyed getting an inside look at the lawmaking process.

“I felt like I was making a difference and liked being involved in the process,” she added.

 Julianne Thomas, sister to Jacqueline, said she sees the end goal in mind.

“I thought visiting the senate was a very cool experience and beneficial to our club so that we can solar power the new middle school,” she said. 

“The best way to get ahead in our quest for change is to get started,” said Hakim. “Whether that be by giving a presentation on a student led initiative on the subject of solar power like ours was, or something completely different. Regardless of the magnitude of our endeavors for a healthier community, any progress is valuable.”