Community Solar Project Planned for Burcham Park

Friday, November 27, 2015, 10:46 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

At their work session this past Tuesday, East Lansing’s City Council was presented with a draft lease agreement between the City of East Lansing and Patriot Solar Garden East Lansing, LLC, for community solar project at Burcham Park. Lansing Board of Water and Light (BWL) is also a partner in this project.

The plan is to build a solar array at the East Lansing brownfield site called Burcham Park, at the southwest corner of Park Lake Road and Burcham Road, and to have businesses and homeowners literally buy into the solar project by “leasing” panels that contribute to their energy use. According to the City’s webpage on the project, “Participants in the BWL program will be able to lease a panel, or panels, for 25 years and receive credit on their BWL electric utility bill for the solar power their lease produces. The lease cost for a 300-watt solar panel is $399, which is a favorable industry price point.”

John Kinch, Executive Director of Michigan Energy Options, told Council on Tuesday night that this is “very much an East Lansing-driven project” with a lot of local support. The plan is for the project to use one acre of the approximately 24 acres of land at Burcham Park. He said this is a good use of the park because it sits atop an old landfill and therefore has limited usefulness.

Asked by Councilmember Shanna Draheim about the timeline for the project, Kinch said the hope is to have the project “sold out” by January and up and running by spring.

Councilmember Susan Woods asked about whether they are worried about vandalism or theft. Kinch said there will be a fence around the project. He also explained that it is the responsibility of the developer to maintain the project.

Kinch also said there will be good signage and infrastructure for educational tours, and that the location is ideal for bringing in school groups. Draheim said she thought this would be a great opportunity for public education about energy alternatives.

In response to a question from Councilmember Erik Altmann, Kinch said that the one thousand panels will generate enough energy to power about 55 homes per year. He noted it would also be “clean” energy production with low emissions.

Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier said that her impression was that if you have solar panels on your house and the grid goes out, you can still have power, but that this arrangement would not provide any protection in the event of an outage of the grid. Kinch said that when the grid goes down, the solar systems are essentially disconnected from the grid so that lineman reconnecting wires are not electrocuted.

He also noted that East Lansing has a lot of trees near houses, which means most houses are not good candidates for rooftop solar arrays. This array in Burcham Park will not have a shading problem.

Mayor Mark Meadows said that usually the City of East Lansing had struggled with doing anything at Burcham Park because the residences immediately neighboring it to the south are in Meridian Township and are concerned with whatever East Lansing is doing next door. Meadows asked Kinch why this wasn’t a problem in this case. City Manager George Lahanas explained that there had “not been a public engagement process around this.”

Lahanas then recommended a public hearing on the matter and suggested that everyone living within 300 feet of the perimeter be formally notified. He said he didn’t think the plan had yet been adequately announced to the people living next door.

Meadows replied that it is a very exciting project but we “want to make sure we have opportunity for public input.” He said the people next-door had dealt with a lot of trouble from the old landfill at Burcham Park, and “we owe it to them to let them know what we are doing.”

Meadows recommended working with Meridian Township to get input from anyone in Meridian Township who wants to comment on the matter. He said that if there was a meeting held in Meridian Township, East Lansing Councilmembers could attend and listen, although he noted they could not talk to each other about the matter there or they might violate the Open Meetings Act.

East Lansing residents and business owners who are interested in participating in the community solar project by leasing panels can learn more and sign up at the project’s website.