US-China tensions, supply chain lag could push back DTE Energy’s solar plan – Community News
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US-China tensions, supply chain lag could push back DTE Energy’s solar plan

DTE Energy Co.’s construction of two new solar arrays in Michigan next year could be delayed until 2023 due to the ongoing dispute between the US and China over human rights violations in China, a DTE executive told Crain’s.

Silicon components used in the production of solar panels sold in the US are produced in the western Xinjiang region of China, where the US State Department is challenging China’s “cruel and inhumane” forced labor practices.

The Biden administration’s crackdown on the mass detention of religious minorities in China has effectively halted the flow of solar panels and other renewable energy components to the US

“We are having trouble getting panels in due to the international disputes between the US and China,” said Trevor Lauer, president and chief operating officer of DTE Electric.

Solar panels are “also entangled in the entire shipping disaster,” Lauer added. “But above all, we have panels that are now sitting outside the country waiting to get in — and we can’t get them into the country.”

Completion of the two arrays — a 120-megawatt solar farm in Washtenaw County and a 200-megawatt solar array in Montcalm County — could be pushed to 2023 as a result of the international trade dispute, Lauer said.

The reliance on China-made solar panels is a potential glitch in DTE Energy’s continued expansion into solar, which the Detroit-based utility is shifting to for future investments as the cost of electric generation from wind turbines has risen.

DTE announced Tuesday that the production of renewable energy has increased by 40 percent this year compared to 2020.

The 535 megawatt increase came from three new wind farms that came online in the spring and a solar panel that started producing electricity before the end of the year, Lauer said.

In 2022, DTE’s Meridian wind farm, which spans the borders of Saginaw and Midland counties, is expected to come online and generate 225 megawatts from 77 wind turbines.

“After we build the Meridian wind farm, I think we’ll essentially be done building wind in the state of Michigan,” Lauer told Crain’s. “…What we see is that the total cost of solar energy is lower than the total cost of wind.”

However, DTE can increase the electrical generation capacity of existing wind farms by replacing 1.5 megawatt turbines with 3 megawatt turbines. These upgrades are known in the industry as “repowering” wind farms.

But, Lauer warned, cheaper solar generation “will depend on what happens to China to continue flooding the US with solar energy.”