Consumers Energy, one of Michigan’s largest energy providers based in Jackson, announced its intentions to work with landowners and communities to identify locations for utility-scale solar power plants that will provide clean, renewable energy.
Consumers Energy states solar is the centerpiece of the regulated utility’s clean energy plan to meet Michigan’s energy needs over the next 20 years while protecting the environment by eliminating coal and achieving net zero carbon emissions.
With regulatory approval, it plans an expansion to add 8,000 megawatts of utility-scale solar energy by 2040, when it says more than 60 percent of its electric capacity will come from renewable sources. Consumers Energy is searching for tens of thousands of acres throughout Michigan.
“We need support throughout Michigan, especially in rural and agricultural areas, and we want to work with landowners and local leaders interested in siting solar power plants to deliver environmental and economic benefits for their communities,” says Dennis Dobbs, vice president of enterprise project management and environmental services. “Harnessing the sun is Michigan’s moonshot — and we won’t achieve this historic goal without help.”
Consumers Energy has already begun adding 1,100 megawatts of solar capacity to come online by 2024. It plans to own 50 percent of this additional solar capacity and purchase the remaining half from solar developers.
Utility-scale solar projects capable of generating about 100 megawatts provide the best value for customers but require a significant amount of land — between five and ten acres per megawatt of electricity — that’s flat, open, and treeless with direct access to the sun and proximity to existing transmission infrastructure.
Ideal project sites for solar power plants are about 500 to 900 acres and are often comprised of multiple, neighboring landowners. Potential locations include:
- Farm fields — including those less ideal for growing crops
- Brownfield sites
- Publicly owned properties
With solar leading the way, the company’s proposed clean energy plan, would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 63 million tons. That’s the equivalent of removing 12.4 million passenger vehicles from the road for one year.
Consumers states solar panels don’t leach or emit any harmful chemicals into the soil or the air and aren’t expected to negatively affect local wildlife. It will complete a detailed environmental inventory of the project area and will work with landowners and applicable federal, state, and local agencies to consider all environmental concerns. This includes identifying and protecting any threatened or endangered species and their habitats.
Topsoil is left in place and solar array sites are seeded with native grasses and pollinating plants to promote biodiversity. Land can generally be farmed again after serving as a solar installation.
In addition to its environmental benefits, solar is increasingly cost competitive and Consumers Energy can add it gradually to meet Michigan’s changing energy needs without building a large, new fossil fuel power plant.
Siting solar power plants provides economic benefits for landowners and communities.
- Participating landowners may sell us their property or create an ongoing revenue source by entering into long-term easement agreements.
- Solar power plants create hundreds of construction jobs and can increase a community’s revenue to help fund education and critical basic services.
“Our goal is to meet Michigan’s property owners and communities where they are to start a conversation about mutually beneficial solar solutions,” says Dobbs.
In addition, Katie Carey, director of external relations at Consumers Energy, states the utility will fulfill its responsibilities when solar panels have completed their productive life cycle. At that time, it plans to partner with a qualified solar panel recycler to repurpose, scrap, and dispose of any decommissioned panels in the most environmentally friendly means possible.
“Because most of our solar installs are so new, we are still 20 years out from disposal needs. In the situation where panels fail prior to their end of life, we work with the manufacturer on warranty and disposal issues,” Carey responded in an email.
“More than 95 percent of photovoltaic panels are recyclable and multiple regional recyclers are currently recycling panels in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Tennessee. With the infrastructure (substations and connections to the power grid) in place lasting more than 50 years, replacing and upgrading panels can easily extend the overall useful life of an installation.”