The Future of Solar Energy in Michigan is Farm-to-Table
Have you ever visited a restaurant that markets itself as “farm-to-table?” This just means the restaurant sources its ingredients, including eggs, meats and seasonal produce, from local farms. It’s a big selling point as it means your food is fresh and your purchase supports jobs in and around the community.
As part of our Clean Energy Plan, we’re taking the farm-to-table concept and applying it to solar energy. With the expansion of our renewable energy programs, our customers can expect to receive more clean energy generated on solar farms right here in Michigan.
The Benefits of Solar Energy
Why solar energy? There are several benefits to using energy generated from solar panel farms.
- Environmental benefits
In comparison to fossil fuels, clean energy options like solar are better for the planet. Solar energy leads to reduced carbon emissions and reduced water usage, which is exceptionally important in Michigan. We’re protective of our Great Lakes and the rivers that feed in and out of them as a water source. We want to keep them full and healthy.
- Cost competitive
Solar is increasingly cost competitive with other fuel sources, which is why it is the centerpiece of our Clean Energy Plan, which is projected to save customers about $600 million through 2040. There is a misconception that renewables are more expensive than coal. But what many people forget are the hidden costs of coal, including labor, maintenance and the investment-based sunk costs that come with operating a coal plant. The operations and maintenance of solar is much lower, which means costs from customers will remain lower over the lifespan of the generating facility.
In fact, with the high operating costs of coal plants, a new coal plant today would come out to 2-5 times the cost of the same capacity from solar energy sources.
- Production corresponds with peak demand
This is a fancy way of saying electricity costs peak in the summer when most people are cranking the AC, and summer is conveniently the time of year when solar is most plentiful. Because we need solar energy most when it’s readily available, cost is overall lower in comparison to other renewable energy sources.
- Long-term planning
We can start small and add solar farms and panels gradually, giving us flexibility to respond to emerging needs, adapt to changing conditions and embrace new technologies. This flexibility is key, and wouldn’t exist if we instead built a huge, new coal or natural gas power plant with high overhead and startup costs.
New solar installations have minimal impact on land. Topsoil is left in place and solar array sites are seeded with native grasses and pollinating plants to promote biodiversity. Land can generally be used for a variety of purposes, including farming, after serving as a solar installation.
We will fulfill our responsibilities when solar panels have completed their productive life cycle. At that time, we plan to partner with a qualified solar panel recycler to repurpose, scrap and dispose of any decommissioned panels in the most environmentally friendly means possible.
- Supports local farmers
From large-scale to hobby farmers, we’re working with agricultural partners to make the idea of farm-to-table energy more than just an analogy. Land for solar should be flat and already cleared, as preserving Michigan’s beauty includes leaving existing forests intact.
Ideal project sites for utility-scale solar power plants are about 500 to 900 acres and are often comprised of multiple, neighboring landowners. Solar power plants can provide income for participating landowners from the sale of property or ongoing easement agreements. Learn more about solar and how we can work together. Visit: consumersenergy.com/misolar
Why We’re Bringing Solar to Michigan
Our Clean Energy Plan is a 20-year strategic road map to meeting the state’s energy needs while protecting the environment. We want to eliminate coal and dramatically boost renewable energy to achieve net zero carbon emissions in our electric business by 2040. We’re also planning on net zero greenhouse gas emissions from the company’s entire natural gas production and delivery system — including customers and suppliers — by 2050.
Solar energy is a huge part of this plan and strategy over the course of the next 20 years. We consider this moment a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for solar. Why?
We plan to bring 1,100 megawatts of solar capacity online by 2024 — enough to serve about 425,000 residents. By 2040, we want around 8,000 megawatts of solar power added to Michigan’s energy system. We plan to own half of the 8,000 megawatts of additional solar capacity and purchase the rest from power plants owned by third parties.
We procure our solar energy through a competitive bidding process where solar developers, including ourselves, bid projects to sell to the company outright or to just sell us the power. This ensures only projects that provide maximum value for our customers are selected.