DTE plans what it calls the largest solar array east of the Mississippi River
New massive solar projects will expand Michigan’s renewable energy supply in 2016, but not all are getting warm welcomes.
DTE Energy announced this week two new solar installations planned for Lapeer, with the bigger of the two becoming “the largest operating utility-owned photovoltaic solar array east of the Mississippi and the third largest in the country.” All told, the pair of sites will eventually produce 45,000 megawatts of energy or enough electricity to power 9,000 homes.
The utility is partnering with Indiana-based Inovateus on the project, and local officials are billing it as a win-win for the community.
“I’ve said more than once that I can’t find a downside to a project like this,” said Dale Kerbyson, Lapeer’s city manager. “It’s got so many positives for this community, and they go beyond our borders.”
Kerbyson said hosting the solar installations will allow Lapeer to claim it’s 100 percent green, and the panels will be blocked from public view by either trees or fences in most places.
Ann Arbor is currently home to DTE’s largest solar array at Domino’s Farms, just off M-14. It’s a collection of solar panels large enough to cover Michigan Stadium. Collectively, the Lapeer sites will be almost three times the size of those in Ann Arbor.
“The two project sites in Lapeer will cover nearly 300 acres of land. ...,” said Jennifer Wilt, a communications specialist with DTE. “They’ll utilize roughly 145,000 (solar) panels.”
DTE received support for the Lapeer project — coupled with a call for further action — from officials at the Sierra Club.
“Utility-scale solar power like the company is planning will help provide clean, homegrown energy at affordable prices while creating well-paying jobs,” said Andrew Sarpolis, an organizing representative of the group’s Beyond Coal campaign. “It just makes economic sense.
“But, while we’re excited about DTE’s announcement, we call on the company to improve our health by moving away from outdated and dirty coal.”
Sarpolis specifically targeted DTE’s River Rouge and Trenton Channel power plants.
Lapeer officials expect installation of the solar panels to begin in February and be complete before the end of 2016.
Ninety miles to the west, Delta Township will soon be home to 70,000 solar panels producing another 20,000 megawatts of energy. The project is a collaboration between the Lansing Board of Water and Light and groSolar, based in Maryland.
Earlier this month, township commissioners approved a special land-use permit for the project, after what one municipal official described as an “open and transparent process.”
“What is unique about projects like this is that they can be developed so that they feed directly into (the Board of Water and Light’s) distribution system and supply power during the summer peak demand period,” said Richard Peffley, the utility’s general manager, in a press release.
But local residents such as Dave Brown aren’t exactly rolling out a red carpet. Brown said his property is less than 350 feet from the parcel that will be home to the solar installation and that he was unaware of it until earlier this month.
Brown said he moved to the area roughly 20 years ago, drawn to its lack of development, and eventually embraced the idea of retiring there. Now 62, Brown is no longer certain it will remain the kind of place where he wants to live.
He and another neighbor believed the area was limited to certain types of development. Local officials’ willingness to open the door to a solar facility creates worries that this is the first of many intrusions on the area.
Brown also contends the township did little to alert the handful of residents in his neighborhood that this project was coming.
“I did not receive a letter about any of this happening,” he said Tuesday.
Following a 2008 mandate, Michigan power providers have been working to generate 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources by the end of this year. DTE officials said they have already surpassed that goal with a combination of wind and solar power.
The requirement ends at the beginning of the new year. The Legislature is expected to approve new energy legislation early in the year, but renewal or expansion of the renewable mandate remains uncertain.
Despite the recent spate of solar projects, wind by far is the main source of renewable energy in Michigan. A report released in early 2015 by the Public Service Commission broke the state’s renewable energy production down:
■Wind generation accounts for 59 percent of the state’s renewable energy total.
■Hydroelectric produces 16 percent.
■Biomass generates 14 percent.
■Municipal solid waste produces 4 percent.
■Landfill gas creates 6 percent.
■Solar generates 1 percent.