Higher Education, Manufacturing, and Sustainability

Utility plans solar garden at university

July 15, 2015
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Utility plans solar garden at university
A solar panel array sits on land at a law school. Photo via wikimedia.org

Through an agreement with a university, a utility is planning to construct a solar energy garden in the area for multiple customers.

Grand Valley State University said last week that its board has approved an easement agreement with Consumers Energy for the solar garden near the school’s Allendale campus, south of Pierce Street and near 48th Avenue.

Consumers Energy will also be responsible for the solar garden’s operating costs.

The energy project is anticipated to be completed in 2016.

The agreement

While the details of the easement agreement are still being finalized, the approval by the board allows the university to move forward with a partnership to allow the utility company to use seven to 14 acres of property.

Roger Morgenstern, senior public information director at Consumers Energy for West Michigan, said the idea is to have the agreement terms wrapped up later in the summer, with GVSU committing to annually purchase roughly 500 kilowatts of electricity from the solar garden for 25 years.

“We received approval from the Michigan Public Service Commission earlier this year to develop up to three solar gardens across the state, so we selected Grand Valley as one of them, because we have a long relationship,” Morgenstern said. “The size of the solar array will be determined by if it is one or two megawatts of power.”

GVSU’s approximately one half of the first megawatt from the solar garden is equal to roughly 7 percent of electricity purchased from Consumers by GVSU.

Solar garden subscribers

While GVSU is anticipated to be the largest subscriber to the solar garden, Morgenstern said the utility will be marketing the project to secure additional subscribers, which will pay for the construction costs.

“It would be tied into the grid like any other generating plant, but the individual subscribers would be paying for a block,” Morgenstern said. “That subscription will pay for the construction. This is an optional program we will be offering to our customers.”

The overall cost of the project is not known at this point, due to determining how large of a solar array will be built based on potential subscribers, according to Morgenstern.

“We still have to subscribe the remaining half or 1.5 megawatts, depending on how big it will be,” Morgenstern said. “We are still really finalizing a lot of it.”

Renewable portfolio

Morgenstern said the benefit of the solar garden at GVSU is having a balanced energy portfolio.

“Utility grade, large solar is something we have not done before,” he said.

The majority of Consumers Energy’s renewable energy portfolio includes wind energy, hydroelectricity and waste wood.

The utility operates two wind farms known as Lake Winds Energy Park in Mason County and Cross Winds Energy Park in Tuscola County.

As of 2014, the utility supplied roughly 8 percent of its electric sales from renewable resources, with plans to increase the supply to 10 percent by 2015, according to its website. 

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