DTE energy, the leading solar energy developer in Michigan, is building its largest solar farm in Lapeer, Michigan. According to the news releases of DTE energy, it started the project on May 24, 2016. This project will be completed by 2017 spring and after its completion, it will generate 48 megawatts power which will make it to be the largest solar farm in Michigan, According to Frank Niscoromni, the program manager of Renewable energy in DTE energy. It is being built in rural area and using former farm land. After completion, the solar farm will be a power source that generates electricity directly to the grid. Moreover, all the solar panels are tilted so that during the winter, snow will either melted by sunlight or slide off the panels.
Niscoromni said: “the main reason for building this project is to meet the Renewable Portfolio Standard in Michigan and the attitude toward this project is pretty positive from the city.” The Renewable Portfolio Standard mentioned in his quote is an act activated on October 6, 2008 by Michigan state. According to Database of State Incentives for Renewable & Efficiency, “In October 2008, Michigan enacted the Clean, Renewable, and Efficient Energy Act (Public Act 295), requiring the state’s investor-owned utilities, alternative retail suppliers, electric cooperatives, and municipal electric utilities to generate 10% of their retail electricity sales from renewable energy resources by 2015. The standard allows utilities to use energy optimization (i.e., energy efficiency) and advanced cleaner energy systems to meet a limited portion of the requirement.” Besides this basic information, it is also good to know the cost of this project. Unfortunately, Niscoromni did not provide it since he considered it as a commercially sensitive information.
This project will significantly increase the installed solar energy capacity in Michigan. According to the data of Michigan Public Service Commission Net Metering & Solar Program Report, the annual total installed solar energy capacity in 2014 in Michigan is 27.2MW, which is only about the 56.7% of capacity of this new project. In fact, not just in Michigan, the solar energy in United States is booming. According to the data of Solar Energy Industries Association, since 2008, the installed solar energy capacity has increased from 1.2 gigawatts, which is equivalent to 1200 megawatts, to 35.8 gigawatts, which is equivalent to 35800 megawatts and that is enough capacity to power 6.5 million American homes. Clearly, this largest solar energy project not only will significantly increase the installed solar energy capacity in Michigan, but also will epitomize the fast-growing solar energy industry in United States.
Moreover, this project creates some job opportunities for people. The news releases of DTE energy shows that “DTE’s Lapeer solar projects will create approximately 150 temporary jobs during construction and more than five permanent jobs once the projects are operational.”
Besides this basic information about the project obtained from Niscoromni and other sources, it is important to get perspectives from different people about this project. Sarah Mullkoff, the energy program director at Michigan Environmental Council, believes that it is important to build this kind of large solar energy project in Michigan because the DTE energy needs to meet the renewable portfolio standard. Moreover, Recent years, the cost of developing large solar project has significantly coming down and this makes the solar energy more competitive with the traditional fossil fuels. Joseph Trumpey, an associate professor of Art and Natural Resources at University of Michigan, also think it Is important, since it makes the transition from utilization of the traditional fossil fuels to the utilization of clean and renewable energy even though the solar radiation isn’t very strong in Michigan. “It certainly makes the environment more sustainable. This positive movement reduces the CO2 emission and every project makes such effect is heading toward good direction”, said Trumpey.
In addition, it is also important to consider the future development of the large solar energy project in Michigan. According to Mullkoff, they aren’t required to build more solar farm after they meet the 10% standard. In Lansing, they are encouraged to build more solar farm to go above that level but eventually it depends on the policy and DTE’s decision.
Unlike Niscoromni, both Mullkoff and Trumpey have more complicated thought about the motivation to build this large solar farm. Besides the need to meet the renewable portfolio standard, Mullkoff believes that part of motivation also is coming from the request of customer who wants clean energy. Moreover, because they are closing some coal facilities, they need to consider other types of energy source. Different from Mullkoff, Trumpey believes that since the cost of generating electricity from solar energy becomes more competitive, DTE want to invest the solar energy project, and they also want to reduce the carbon footprint.
The effect of the solar energy project on electricity price is also a valuable thing to consider. Mullkoff said “the solar energy will not necessary raise the cost, the price of generating electricity from solar energy isn’t much higher than the cost of generating electricity from fossil fuel.” She believes that in the long run, it can save the customer’s money since DTE energy will spend less investment on fuel power plant and have less cost of generating coal and import it from other states. Having a similar opinion, Trumpey also believes that the cost of generating electricity isn’t high compare with traditional fossil fuel. He claims that as the price of the gas continue to increase and the cost of solar energy continue to decrease, the price of solar energy becomes more competitive. As more people are using solar energy, the cost will continue to decrease.
Finally, it is meaningful to compare the solar energy with the wind energy. Mullkoff believes that the prices of both energy have coming down substantially. Solar energy needs more development to match the wind energy. It has large potential for future development. Trumpey said that “The wind energy is more limited to geographical location. It depends on where the users live. Some places are windier than other place so that the wind energy is more competitive, but solar energy is less limited to the geographical location, since the sunlight exists everywhere.”
Overall, the opinions of these two experts toward this project are very positive. This project is developed because of the competitive cost of solar energy and the growing environmental concern of people which is manifested by renewable portfolio standard.