Solar Project Going Forward

Wednesday, June 29, 2016, 11:40 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

When East Lansing’s City Council voted unanimously to offer a much less lucrative tax abatement than the developer of a local solar project asked, some were worried that the Council’s decision would kill the project. But asked by ELi about whether the project proposed by Inovateus Solar is going forward, the City Manager’s office confirmed this morning that it is.

Eilis Seide, Assistant to the City Manager, told ELi this morning, “After speaking with Peter Rienks, the representative of Inovateus, he indicated that ‘The project is moving forward. Although the abatement is only for 10 years, it was able to get us to a point where we can begin construction later this year.’”

Inovateus is planning to build a large solar array in a series of parking lots on MSU’s campus. Carports will be constructed in the lots with solar panels arranged on top of the carports.

The plan is for MSU to purchase the energy created. MSU stopped burning coal at its Simon power plant this April, but still relies largely on fossil fuels. Under the leadership of President Lou Ann K. Simon, MSU has been working to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The need for energy at MSU will surge with the completion of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) project.

When Council voted on the tax abatement for Inovateus Solar’s project, Councilmembers Shanna Draheim and Susan Woods tried to convince their colleagues to give the longer, larger tax abatement requested by Inovateus. They expressed concern that without giving Inovateus what it was asking, the project might never be built.

As Draheim pointed out repeatedly, if the project were not built, not only would there be the loss of a large solar project, the City of East Lansing would receive no taxes. Draheim and Woods urged their colleagues to recognize that even with the large abatement the developer requested, the City would be getting more taxes than if the project were never built.

But Mayor Mark Meadows, Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier, and Councilmember Erik Altmann pushed instead for an abatement that would realize the City of East Lansing $1.9 million more than under the original proposal. In his push, Meadows noted that—if the project were built—the smaller and shorter abatement he proposed would also mean more money for East Lansing Public Schools, Lansing Community College, CATA, and other local taxing entities. He indicated he had to think of their needs in deciding what deal to offer.

At the vote on June 21, Draheim and Woods ultimately voted with the rest of Council to offer the reduced abatement, so that it passed 5-0. Meadows estimated that under the abatement deal that ultimately passed, the East Lansing Public Schools will get almost $700,000 more than under the proposal put forth originally by the developer.