MI Community SolarGreater Lansing Business Monthly

Greater Lansing is on the verge of converting its first sunbeams into energy, thanks to a new project announced by the Lansing Board of Water and Light (BWL), the city of East Lansing and the city of Lansing. Under the partnership, BWL will bring the first solar parks to its service territory.

“The community solar program is yet another shining example of regional cooperation and our collaborative efforts to make metro Lansing cleaner and greener,” said Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero in a press release about the project.

The first solar park will be located at Burcham Park, a retired landfill site in East Lansing. The second will be adjacent to BWL’s Wise Road Treatment Plant in Lansing.

To make the project possible, BWL is partnering with Patriot Solar Garden East Lansing, LLC, which will design, construct and operate the facility. Once complete, Patriot Solar will also be responsible to market and administer the project. BWL has entered into Purchase Power Agreement with Patriot Solar to put the power from the solar parks to use.

Both residential and commercial BWL consumers will have the opportunity to lease solar panels for a period of 25 years for a one-time payment of $399. Then, lessees get a credit on each month’s energy utility bill for the amount of power created by those solar panels.

With 1,000 solar panels producing 300 watts each, each solar park is expected to create 385,000 kilowatt-hours of power each year. That’s enough to power 55 average households.

An Innovative Model

The solar park model offers a low-maintenance approach to solar energy. While the traditional approach requires individuals to be responsible for their own solar power and attach unappealing panels to their property, the solar park model allows consumers to take advantage of solar energy technology without the onus of maintaining it themselves.

“Not all customers want solar panels on their homes or businesses or may have a home or business without an orientation conducive to a solar installation. A community solar project allows those customers to invest directly in a project and receive a credit on their bill for the power produced,” said BWL Executive Director of Public Affairs Stephen Serkaian.

Michigan Energy Options Executive Director John Kinch said the solar park model is believed to have originated in Davis, Cali., about 10 to 20 years ago. Residents eager to take advantage of the state’s generous sunlight and go green were filing requests to cut down trees on their property to make way for solar panels — a trend that, while well-intentioned, was not great for the area’s greenery. Solar parks were the area’s way of offering residents the green power they wanted without trimming down the local tree population.

The individual panels approach is still more popular, but solar parks are on the rise with sites emerging across the country, including Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oregon. In Michigan, Cherryland Cooperative and Traverse City Light and Power have one, too.

Michigan may not get California’s trademark year-round sunshine, but the area’s new solar parks are still expected to be more than worth it. BWL estimates that lessees will get about three to four times more power from their solar panels in the summer than in the winter.

Even with Michigan’s dark winters, each solar panel will pay for itself in energy credits within about 10 years with an annual estimated credit of $20 to $25.

Green Karma

Kinch said the benefits of the solar park go far beyond the cost efficiency.

“The hope is that consumers will see the triple bottom line. The benefits are environmental, social and economical.”

When local businesses support renewable energy in their community, that green karma circles right back to them. Kinch believes local businesses and other community leaders play a key role in making that future a reality — and that it can bolster their bottom lines in more than just their utility bills.

Ultimately, the perks that make a community greener — whether it’s better bike paths or renewable energy sources like solar parks — also boost the local economy and create a more vibrant, dynamic community that can help all businesses there thrive. Plus, consumers enjoy spending their money at businesses that go green.

Kinch plans to reach out to businesses and other organizations in the greater Lansing community to discuss these green energy benefits, and is open to invitations from interested groups.
Powering Up

Residents and businesses within the BWL service area can pre-register now to get first dibs on solar panels once they become available for lease, which is expected to open in December. To do so, visit

The Burcham solar park will begin construction once the solar panels are 80 percent leased, and will take about two months to complete. Kinch hopes to see the park reach this threshold by the end of December — just one week after the Oct. 27 project announcement, 100 solar panels were already spoken for.

Once the Burcham Park site is fully leased and 80 percent of the Wise Road site panels are leased, the second site will also begin construction.

While 25 years is a long time to commit to a single home for most people — the average American moves approximately 11 times over their lifetime, according to the 2007 U.S. Census data — BWL is doing what they can to make lease terms flexible.

Should a consumer need to break the lease, the rights to the solar panels can be transferred to a third party — whether that be a new resident at the address, or a different consumer within the BWL service area, or even an organization the lessee would like to donate the power credit to.

After 25 years are up, BWL’s Power Purchase Agreement offers the option to renew the agreement for an additional five years. What happens beyond that? It may be a little early to tell.

“This is still new territory,” Kinch said. “Most solar parks are only five or 10 years old.”