Alt energy advocates enthused over BWL solar project

Dec 11, 2015

The Lansing Board of Water and Light has disclosed plans to build the largest solar array in the state. We ask a couple of local energy insiders what they think of the plan.


The Lansing Board of Water and Light wants to build Michigan’s largest solar power facility. The community owned utility told the Lansing State Journal this week that it’s eyeing two parcels of land in Delta Township where they intend to put up as many as 70,000 solar panels on 186 acres of land. The BWL says it would be 18 times larger than the biggest existing solar generating facility in Michigan.

Clean energy advocates are enthusiastic about the plan.

Current State talks with Bob Nelson, a former Michigan Public Service Commissioner with a long history of involvement in energy issues in Michigan who recently became a non-voting BWL commissioner, and Douglas Jester, a principal at 5 Lakes Energy, a policy consulting firm working to advance clean energy.
 

EDITED INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

Why do you support the BWL solar energy project?
 
(Nelson) It will be the largest solar project in Michigan and it’s going to help reduce carbon emissions greatly throughout this area. Also, over time it’s going to be a very cost effective program. It’s going to reduce rates because it’s a 20 year program. Rates will be stabilized for (those) 20 years. You’re not going to pay more in year 19 (than) you do in year one (as) with natural gas or coal. I think it’s a win-win for the customer and for the Board of Water and Light.
 
What makes solar energy more cost effective?
 
(Jester)  When we pay our utility rates, we don’t usually look at the details but there are two pieces. One is the cost of the wires delivering power. 
The other is the power supply itself. In Michigan, the average cost of power is in the neighborhood of eight cents a kilowatt hour. The final price for this project hasn’t been announced but we anticipate that it’s going to be significantly less than that. 
This solar project is going to displace power that otherwise would probably cost in the neighborhood of 10 or 11 cents a kilowatt hour and probably (cost) below seven cents a kilowatt hour. 
 
The BWL still uses the same outage management system from the 2013 ice storm. Should residents be concerned about the system?
 
(Nelson) I’m not sure we don’t have anything to worry about but at the same time it has been tested a lot more than it was prior to 2013. It was a new system that was put in that year and frankly, they did not do adequate testing before that ice storm. I think it has been tested severely since then.