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First Consumers solar garden operational, part of cleaner energy exploration

GVSU solar garden
Courtesy photo, Consumers Energy

With Consumers Energy’s first large-scale community solar garden up and running in western Michigan and a second on the way, the utility’s move to clean energy could also be seen as a test of what the market will bear. 

"It’s really an interesting time because we just closed seven coal plants that we operate last week, and now this project is in business."

That’s Brian Wheeler, a Consumers Energy spokesperson.

"This doesn’t make up for the energy that was lost from those coal plants, but it really represents a movement toward more renewable energy that we’re generating here in Michigan."

Wheeler says the utility’s three-megawatt, 17-acre solar garden in partnership with Grand Valley State University is the largest community solar project in the state to-date. A similar, 8.5-acre project with Western Michigan University is underway, and a third location in the Lansing area is also being explored.

The gardens are part of a pilot program that offers customers an opportunity to directly support solar energy by choosing to add it to their energy mix. It includes an upfront premium, which is then offset by solar energy credits applied back to customer bills.

The big-picture goal, Wheeler says, is added environmental sustainability – whether that’s wind, solar, or something else. Or, all of the above.

"Down the road, there’s going to be a real question of how much and how far we can go as far as developing renewable sources of energy. So, solar gardens – this project is a great milestone in terms of where we could head down the road."

"We’re ultimately going to be looking to see what’s the most reliable, what’s the most affordable – and what’s the cleanest way we can provide electricity."

Wheeler says short-term, those projects include the move from coal to natural gas.

The company has also contracted to buy energy from a 100-megawatt wind farm under construction in Huron County.

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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