Dawn Parker, EAST LANSING –”Do you know the odds of a sunny day this time of year?” Michigan Energy Options Executive Director John Kinch joked Tuesday afternoon.
The abundant sunshine over Burcham Park might have been read as a good omen. Kinch and other local officials were there to announce the first of two solar parks in the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s service area.
The parks are a joint effort between the BWL, East Lansing and Lansing. The first bank of 1,000 panels will be built on one acre in the southwest corner of Burcham Park, a former municipal landfill near the intersection of Park Lake Road and Burcham Drive on the border between East Lansing and Meridian Township.
Once the East Lansing park is built, Kinch said, a second park is planned next to the Wise Road Water Treatment Plant in Lansing.
“It’s very exciting that we can provide affordable, cleaner and greener energy for our citizens,” Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero said.
Any BWL electric customer may lease one or more panels for 25 years at a cost of $399 per panel. Credits will be issued to individual electric bills, and panels are expected to pay for themselves within about 10 years.
The panels won’t begin to be installed until the park is 80% leased. Kinch said he hopes that knowledge will inspire people to “get involved and get involved early.”
Maintenance costs will be handled by the manufacturer, Albion-based Patriot Solar. The company declined to discuss installation costs for the project, but BWL officials believe the $399 lease per panel will cover them.
The BWL “has always been proud to be a leader in environmental stewardship,” general manager Dick Peffley said. He pointed to a solar installation at Cedar and Kalamazoo which generates 160 kilowatt hours, which he said is the largest municipally owned solar park in Michigan, and the BWL’s investment in a wind farm in Ithaca.
East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett said the city has committed to purchasing 10 panels, with credits coming off the city’s electric bill.
The former landfill, Triplett said, has gone from being a “trouble spot” for the city to having a bright future. “It’s a powerful symbol of progress,” he said.
The Burcham Park array is expected to generate around 385,000 kilowatt hours per year, or enough energy to power 55 households. Once installed, energy from the panels will go through a transformer into the BWL’s distribution system.
East Lansing conducted a community solar survey in 2014, which found that 87% of 590 respondents said they would support the city’s exploration of a community solar project. The plan is to “knock on everyone’s door” who expressed initial interest and to see whether they’re still interested, Kinch said.
Andrew McGlashen, chair of the city’s Commission on the Environment, lives near the park. McGlashen said he’s seen strong community support for the plan, especially among neighbors, who are excited about having it nearby.
“I think solar is at the beginning of something big in Michigan,” he said.
Mike Froh believes his community will get excited about it as well. The Meridian Township resident is a non-voting member of the BWL’s Board of Trustees and sits on the Wardcliff Neighborhood Association board, one of the few areas of Meridian Township that gets its electricity from the BWL.
“I think it would be silly for people not to take advantage of it,” Froh said. “We will do what we can in cooperation with East Lansing and the BWL.”