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Michigan House Bill 4477 – Ignorance or Malicious?

A new bill was introduced into the Michigan House on Microgrids.  In the press release from Michigan House Representative Steven Johnson is the odd statement of: “House Bill 4477 would establish protocols for microgrids so renewable energy users could safely disconnect from the main electric grid during outages and continue using the renewable energy they generate.”

There are a range of issues in the bill including the destruction of one of the key tenants of Utility franchise laws. But the one that really gets funny is the one to allow residential renewables to operate in an outage. That is the only issue I will address here.  

House Bill 4477 requires that people with renewables be allowed to use them during outages!

Today Michigan uses the National Electrical Code (NEC) which allows that any local generation be used during outages, with proper safety equipment. Tens of thousands of Michigan households have generators, transfer trip switches, and the other safety equipment required to allow them to run during outages.

Nothing is different about renewables, any renewable system can currently be installed or modified to run during an outage. All it takes is an installed to put in transfer trip, use an off-grid inverter, and for the safety of the appliances and people in the household either pick an inverter with good voltage regulation or put in a voltage regulator. Because in an outage the cloud cover in Michigan can be highly variable, some storage to ride through cloud cover and potentially provide power into the evening might be wise. Oh course, the transfer trip system, and the voltage regulator add cost to the system.

People who run on pure solar during outages can expect shorter life spans on all their electrical equipment do to variations in solar output during the storm and the weather immediately following the storm. The cost of at least a bit of storage would be paid off with the longer life of their appliances, computers, and entertainment equipment.

So, I am confused, do the sponsors of this bill not realize that this is currently law and regulation in Michigan or are they trying to get around the NEC, as some of the solar installers in Michigan have done time and again. Is this an end run to avoid cost of safety equipment?

Do they not realize that if the state starts not following the NEC that home insurance rates will rise, almost immediately by between 7 and 15 percent? Costing taxpayers far, far more in the state than following the NEC and putting in the safety equipment?

The requirements are clear in the NEC. Rep. Steven Johnson and his co-authors are either ignorant of the current rules or are they trying to go around the NEC and the safety of the public and the people who maintain the grid?

I got a non-answer from Rep. Johnson office when I asked. Having been provided with an earlier draft of this article they have not responded to the article.

We as an engineering community have the responsibility to stand up for safety and to help policy makers understand the underlying technical issues. In this case I hope it is only about ignorance, and not about maliciousness. Speak out to your policy makers and offer technical advice, lets avoid this kind of bill from ever being written.

Doug Houseman's picture

Thank Doug for the Post!

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Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on May 7, 2019 3:00 pm GMT

Want more about this subject - read another article shared on Energy Central -

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 7, 2019 4:19 pm GMT

Good post, Doug. As an engineer, you might emphasize that a microgrid runs the risk of taking Michigan's Public Service Commission grid down if not properly isolated when power is restored.

The meme being promoted by microgrid investors is they "promote resilience." If so, microgrid users should disconnect from the MPSC grid and do their own thing, instead of risking everyone else's access to electricity with an unregulated, unmonitored, jury-rigged setup. What could possibly go wrong? A lot, that's what.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 7, 2019 11:49 pm GMT

Ignorance or malice-- there are pessimistic reasons to land on both sides of this question. Having studied in engineering and chosen a career path that erred on the side of public policy with that engineering knowledge, I'm inclined to believe the ignorance side of the equation. There are not nearly enough scientifically knowledgeable (or even scientifically literate) people who are charged with crafting policy that directly needs such background knowledge. It's all too easy to see the scenario arise where they believed crafting this legislation was doing the right thing and didn't realize they were creating dangerous safety loopholes. I have a hunch that if there were an engineer like you on the team of the author, this would have been caught early and they would have only been trying to mandate this initiative if it came with the additional safety measures you describe (of course, that affects the cost/benefit analysis-- so impossible to know where they would have landed there). I'd be eager to hear if the author will in the future get back to you about this issue you raised and that I'm sure other professionals in the state are also bringing up. 

Stephen Browning's picture
Stephen Browning on May 9, 2019 10:10 pm GMT

There is considerable ignorance as to the nature of Electricity Delivery.  Each AC System is a giant machine as is always in balance G=D....  no storage in the wires and thus the product flows from all Alternators/Dfigs/Inverters to all appliances at incredible speed   3*10^8 m/s.  50 * 6000km waves per second!!!!

And each system has to be maintained secure and stable steady state and after any credible fault!!!!

Please see FPS 1 2 3 and 20 21 22 on my webspace for more insights into Basics and Retail DER participation and impact!!!

PS: The underlying technical issues dominate the Economics...

Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on May 10, 2019 12:04 am GMT

Doug, I've read the bill (it's only 15 pages) and I'm unable to identify the langauge that concerns you. Can you identify the section in the bill that would allow parties to get around the NEC. Thanks.

Doug Houseman's picture
Doug Houseman on May 12, 2019 10:12 pm GMT

Specifics are in the press release that Rep. Steven Johnson's office released with the bill. Where he indicated that the bill was so people could use their renewables disconnected from the grid legally. 

In talking to his office when i pointed out again that there were no legal issues or regulatory issues, only physics issues, I was told, that it was the MPSC that kept people from using their renewasbles disconnected. When I pointed out that there was nothing in the law, I was told it did not matter, and that physics did not matter. In email they declined to answer my questions. 

So please check out the press release. We need more engineers and technical people helping with policy.

Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on May 13, 2019 9:14 pm GMT

Thank you, Doug. I'll look at the press release for insights.


Alan Ross's picture
Alan Ross on May 14, 2019 9:39 pm GMT

Doug good post. I beleive it is the "law of unintended consequences" at work here but their decision not to respond seems strange.

There have always been developers trying to focus on the lowest cost versus the "best" solution and this may be what some lobbyists have proposed to an unwitting state rep. 

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