Government and Sustainability

City’s Butterworth Solar Project receives final approval

Renewable energy will be used to power Grand Rapids’ water resources plant.

December 18, 2015
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City commissioners gave final approval last week to the Butterworth Solar Project, a large-scale solar array that is planned for the old Butterworth landfill site.

The solar generation project would allow the city to utilize solar energy to run its Water Resource Recovery Facility, which is located on Market Street and across the Grand River from the former landfill.

The city commission unanimously approved and authorized the execution of a term sheet between the city and American Capital Energy, or ACE, and an Indemnification and Hold Harmless Agreement between the city and other non-city members of the Butterworth Site Group, or BSG.

BSG is a group of responsible parties who participated in the remediation of the landfill.

The Butterworth Solar Project is expected to be up and running before the end of 2016.

Haris Alibašić, Grand Rapids’ energy and sustainability director, said his team is eager to begin the Butterworth Solar Project, as it “represents a fantastic opportunity to use renewable energy to reduce the cost of operating the Water Resource Recovery Facility and creating a more sustainable and resilient organization.” 

Alibašić said the completed project would generate approximately three megawatts of energy. He said the Water Resource Recovery Facility costs average $0.0883 per kilowatt-hour, or kwh.

He said after reviewing other bids for similar solar installations, the kwh cost for a power purchase agreement would likely be lower than the city’s current average power costs, which could amount to at least $200,000 in electricity cost savings per year.

“For this particular project, an agreed-upon price per kwh for year one between the city and the developer is $0.0725/kwh, with a power purchase agreement price escalator of 2.5 percent per year,” Alibašić said.

The power purchase agreement will be in place for 20 years.

Alibašić noted there is no upfront cost to the city, and there will be only minimal attributable staff and consulting services costs related to this project.

The city received six proposals for the project after issuing an RFP in early 2015.

The city said it chose ACE as the preferred provider because of the company’s per kwh price that provides “potential savings to the WRRF” and its “experience building similar facilities on former landfills.”

The terms and conditions of the agreement are as follows: The city will lease the land to ACE for 20 years; ACE is responsible for the design, permitting, construction, operation and maintenance of the system; the Water Resource Recovery Facility is the recipient of the energy and will pay a negotiated amount as defined by the power purchase agreement; and ACE will decommission the project at its expense when the project reaches the end of its useful life.

In November 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency-funded Solar Reuse Feasibility Study for the Butterworth Acres Superfund determined it was feasible to utilize the site for solar energy.

In the past two years, the city evaluated several options for utilizing the solar energy produced at the site before identifying the adjacent Water Resource Recovery Facility site as the most cost-effective option.

The city began experimenting with solar energy several years ago, incorporating the panels on its buildings’ rooftops. The Butterworth project will be its first large-scale foray into solar energy.

“This project will add an additional 3.5 percent of renewable energy for the citywide renewable energy target,” Alibašić said.

The city has a goal of generating all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

The next steps for the project include a technical and design review by stakeholders, getting an interconnection agreement with Consumers Energy, permitting and, finally, construction.

“There are many stakeholders and many moving pieces involved with this project,” Alibašić said.

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