Solar Farm Coming To Pittsfield & Ann Arbor

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A new solar project is in the works on the border between Ann Arbor and Pittsfield Township. The Pittsfield Township Board of Trustees unanimously approved the first reading, Tuesday, of a project that would construct a utility-scale, 24 megawatt solar farm on the border with Ann Arbor.

“Ann Arbor has agreed and has paid for some of the initial assessments to prove proof of concept for the project. That means we paid for the interconnection studies and the environmental impact studies necessary to understand if the project can move forward and how. So far the results have affirmed the projects viability. If we move forward with building the project, those costs would be integrated into a levelized cost of energy,” Christine Schopieray, the Executive Administrative Assistant to the Mayor of Ann Arbor told the Sun Times News in an emailed statement.

The project is part of DTE Energy’s Mi Green Power initiative, to eventually phase out old power plants and become carbon-neutral by 2050. The proposed project is planned be one of numerous solar farms dotted around southeastern Michigan to provide power, similar to a project proposed in York Township.

It is too early in the process to predict how many temporary construction or long term maintenance jobs would be produced by this project. Work will likely begin next spring at the very earliest.

“The construction timeline will be determined between the city and DTE. We are in the process of finalizing our portion of it, which is the development agreement. It has already been approved by the planning commission. This process has been in the works for about two years now. The approval request at the next board meeting will be our final for the township,” Pittsfield Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal said.

Only one megawatt would be sent to Pittsfield Township and the rest would be directed towards Ann Arbor. The reason that it is set up by this is more than just that Ann Arbor has far more people. According to DTE, the City of Ann Arbor has committed to powering all of its city-owned properties by renewable energy.

This does not mean that the solar farm will only be connected to Ann Arbor and Pittsfield public institutions. Instead the equivalent amount of power that they use – 23 megawatts in Ann Arbor and about one megawatt in Pittsfield – will now be solar and not other sources from the rest of the grid. So power from this plant will be distributed to every house, business or public building as well, but the amount of power that comes from solar will increase, reducing the amount of power coming from other sources; thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the sustainability of Washtenaw County’s part of the grid.

“This project will not have dedicated wires and cables running from the solar array to the municipal buildings or facilities,” Brian Calka, the Director of Renewable Solutions at DTE Energy, said. “What this will look like is an additional project added to the City of Ann Arbor. It is interconnected into the broader electrical grid. The grid itself is increasing the number of renewable electrons. The amount of the electrons added to the grid are sized to match the electrical usage for the municipal buildings themselves.”

The development has received general praise from environmentalist groups, whether they are involved in the project directly or simply have sent in a letter of support.

“This project is being spearheaded by Ann Arbor. The question for our society is how we’re going to make to move to address climate change at the speed of Ann Arbor,” Douglas Jester of Five Lakes Energy, a Michigan-based sustainable energy consultancy who supports the project, said.

DTE serves over 2 million customers with a capacity of 11,084 megawatts of generation from a mix of coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, nuclear and renewable sources. The company is currently working on a goal to get 420 megawatts of power from wind and solar sources from about five new projects like this one; with more to come, according to DTE.

“In general, I would observe change of any kind is hard for many people and by definition will be disruptive,” Albert Lin, the Executive Director of Pearl Street Station Finance Lab, also said in an emailed statement. His organization advocates for sustainable energy legislation and provides financial analysis. “This solar project may be more controversial than most due to size, but it's hard to argue from a cost basis that generation sources with little or no fuel cost like solar and wind are very attractive in the current environment where prices seem to be rising rapidly for almost all the necessities of life.”

“For most Americans, shelter, food, and utilities are their top expenses in that order. If we cannot find low cost energy, the economy will, and quality of life will almost certainly be harmed. Energy with a fuel input is becoming more risky and costly while those technologies which do not need a fuel input which costs much will have a tremendous financial and emissions edge over other forms of generation,” Lin added.

Calka said that one of the biggest misconceptions with a project like this is that it will only work in the summer or on a sunny day, when in fact the panels can and do work on overcast days, at any time of the year. Like the proposed solar farm in York Township, the panels will be double sided, meaning that in winter the panels will be able to pick up solar reflection in the snow and they will be programed to move east to west with the sun every day.

Image Credit: DTE Energy. Photo of the 20-acre O’Shea Solar Park in Detroit.

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