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Construction starts on first Consumers Energy solar field

Hilary Farrell

Consumers Energy starts construction on a 17-acre solar field in West Michigan as part of a community solar energy pilot program.

About 11,000 solar panels will be installed at the 17-acre Grand Valley State University-owned property, located at the corner of 48th Avenue and Luce Street in Georgetown Township.

GVSU will also be a subscriber of the program.

Tim Sparks is the utility’s vice president of energy supply. He says the panels will generate about 3 megawatts of electricity.

“[That's] enough power to power about 600 typical homes, by next spring," Sparks says. 

The program allows customers to purchase solar energy credits as part of their energy mix. Consumers Energy officials say it’ll be the largest utility-owned community solar garden in the state. 

John Quackenbush chairs the Michigan Public Service Commission, which oversees public utilities in the state.

“In the future, we’re going to be moving towards more renewables," he says. "Wind and solar are big components of that. So we’re excited to have one here (in West Michigan) - first one in the state, by an investor-owned utility.”

Quackenbush says the public buy-in is part of what makes the project interesting to the MPSC.

“The value of solar concept is relatively new, and it’s something we’ve been exploring," he says. "And this [pilot program] is the first opportunity we get to implement it.”

Any utility customer can subscribe to the program, which opens enrollment later this fall.

Officials say they expect at least four pricing options – customers can pay one lump sum to participate, or spread a commitment out over three, seven or 25 years.

There is a premium associated with the costs of solar energy, which would be partially offset by solar credits.

Officials say they expect that to be about five dollars more per month for the average bill.

A second solar garden is expected in Kalamazoo through partnership with Western Michigan University.

The GVSU solar garden should be up and running by next April.

Hilary is a General Assignment and Enterprise reporter for WGVU Public Media. She joined WGVU in September 2014 after several years of experience as a local news reporter, anchor and photojournalist in Midland, Saginaw and Bay counties. She's also worked as a financial and business reporter and audio field producer.
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