Here Comes the Sun: Community Solar
Simple. Affordable. Local.
That’s community solar. It allows customers to support clean, renewable energy without having to install panels on their own roofs, while receiving on-bill utility credits. We’ve helped bring two community solar projects online, in East Lansing and Marquette, with more coming soon.
Our East Lansing project is Mid-Michigan’s first community solar park. The Lansing Board of Water & Light (BWL), City of East Lansing, Pivot Energy, and Community Energy Options, LLC partnered on the project. Participating BWL customers are supporting solar power by leasing panels for 25 years The park has 1,000 345-watt solar panels and is located at Burcham Park, a capped landfill, where we will restore the habitat with native wildflowers and grasses.
Check back for additional information on upcoming volunteer events and other ways to get involved with the landscaping plans!
With our partners at Pivot Energy, we have launched an online dashboard to track monthly and lifetime solar energy production and dollar savings for the project’s subscribers.
We have also partnered with meteocontrols for precise system monitoring of the solar park’s performance and daily operations.
View previous project highlights below.
- Students Stand up for Solar Power
As part of an effort spearheaded by students, Michigan Energy Options (MEO) performed a building energy usage analysis and solar assessment for Okemos High School (OHS). MEO was able to identify opportunities for energy improvement in the building’s systems and related cost savings. MEO also designed the potential production and cost of solar system options on the school’s roof.
MEO assessed the OHS building and provided a customized report highlighting the most cost-effective energy efficiency upgrades, as well as comparative analyses for two solar system sizes. The report included estimates of costs, savings and payback times for the recommended upgrades. Selected upgrades included solar installation of a 20kW roof-mounted system. The solar system was installed in July 2017 by Homeland Solar, a local Michigan company.
Additionally, MEO was able to bring in one of its partners, The Ecology Center, to energy benchmark all of the Okemos Public Schools buildings. The work was completed for nine buildings and has resulted in the district now pursuing ENERGY STAR® certification.
- Going for a Zero Net Energy Building
Michigan Energy Options (MEO) and other partners, including Consumers Energy, are attempting to bring an abandoned grade school back to life as a local food education and processing center that uses less energy than it produces from on-site renewables. This “zero net energy” goal is audacious and difficult to achieve, but the building owners—Tamarack Holdings—and project partners are motivated to create one of the few such buildings in the state.
Getting to zero net energy is a highly technical process, requiring precise auditing, systems modeling and creative financing. That’s, in part, why Consumers Energy has a pilot going in the state to help provide technical and financial support to projects such as our Long Lake Culinary Center, the Grand Rapids Art Museum and a handful of select others.
MEO’s technical assessments for energy efficiency and onsite renewables includes estimates of costs, savings and payback times for the recommended upgrades. Preliminary planned upgrades will save over $24,000 and more than 125,000 kilowatt (kWh) hours annually, helping the center to reallocate those dollars back toward their culinary mission
- Solar Power Is for The Bees
Community solar is simple, affordable, local. It allows customers to support clean, renewable energy without having to install panels on their own roof, while receiving on-bill utility credits. We are currently implementing and managing two community solar projects in Michigan, with plans for more projects soon. Our first project is located in East Lansing on a former capped landfill. Our second project on an industrial site is in Marquette and is the Upper Peninsula’s first community solar garden.
In each location, we are not only helping to introduce clean, renewable energy into these communities, we are also introducing pollinator-friendly plants to these sites. Why? For the bees!
- Lifting the Energy Burden
As part of the Nonprofit Capacity Building Energy Efficiency Program offered by the Cook Family Foundation, Michigan Energy Options (MEO) and Elevate Energy identified and selected Shiawassee County nonprofits seeking energy efficiency improvements. MEO and Elevate offered their expertise to expose areas of opportunity for energy and cost savings and assisted nonprofits in making upgrades.
The SafeCenter provides comprehensive services to the victims of domestic and sexual violence in Clinton and Shiawassee Counties. The center consists of four shelter buildings, a garage, and a storage unit. The shelters are living spaces that must be climate controlled 24/7. On average, the SafeCenter was spending $1,000 per month for water and electricity.
MEO and Elevate assessed the SafeCenter’s buildings and provided a customized report highlighting the most cost-effective energy efficiency upgrades. The report included estimates of costs, savings, and payback times for the recommended upgrades. With support from Elevate, MEO helped find qualified contractors to conduct a major lighting fixture replacement for the SafeCenter, decreasing its lighting consumption by 78%.
- Strategy for a Bright Future
As part of a C.S. Mott Foundation Grant and a Nonprofit Capacity Building Energy Efficiency Program offered by the Cook Family Foundation, Michigan Energy Options (MEO) and Elevate Energy identified and selected Shiawassee County nonprofits seeking energy efficiency improvements. MEO and Elevate offered their expertise to expose areas of opportunity for energy and cost savings and assisted nonprofits in becoming financially stable.
DeVries Nature Conservancy works to help people understand local Michigan heritage by cultivating a “sense of place.” The Conservancy consists of one main nature center building, a community farm, and two large pole barns, which are open to the public year-round. Between interior lighting, office equipment, and wildlife displays, the Conservancy was spending $230 per month for utility bills.
MEO and Elevate assessed DeVries’ buildings and provided a customized report highlighting the most cost-effective energy efficiency upgrades. The report included estimates of costs, savings, and payback times for the recommended upgrades. Selected upgrades included an LED lighting retrofit and solar installation financed through lease agreement with Chart House Energy with no upfront cost to Devries Nature Conservancy. Chart House Energy utilized ITC solar tax credit and depreciation of equipment to finance the project. After year six Devries Nature Conservancy will buyout Chart House Energy and own the system to realize savings for the duration of the equipment lifetime over 25 years.
- June 15, 2018 Webinar: Minimize Financial Risks and Maximize Clean Energy Benefits for Public Sector Institutions
Many public sector institutions in Michigan would like to implement more clean energy projects, but they lack the capital resources and technical expertise to move forward.
This hour-long presentation and discussion included two innovative solutions in practice in other states with the potential of becoming more widely adopted in Michigan.
The first half covered the “Public Purpose Energy Services Company” model, which allows facility-wide energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements to be paid through future energy savings. The for-profit “ESCO” model has existed for some time. ESCOs seek large projects, typically costing over $1 million, that offer fast return on investment. Public purpose organizations generally have smaller potential projects, can tolerate longer payback periods than ESCOs. But identifying the right projects and financing often can be challenging for resource-constrained public institutions. A PPESCO model can help overcome that barrier.
The second half of the webinar looked at “community-based solar:” an approach to clean energy development for local institutions. One such approach could be a public institution entering into a Power Purchase Agreement with a solar developer for onsite solar that does not require that institution to provide the upfront capital costs for construction. Instead, the institution would pay a monthly electricity bill, priced to be competitive with existing utility pricing. Another approach could be “community solar parks” in which local residents, businesses and public institutions can participate in clean energy without having to locate generation on their own property.
Brian Pine, Relationship Manager, of Commons Energy, a L3C in Vermont, presented on the first-of-its kind “Public Purpose Energy Services Company” (PPESCO) model, which allows building energy efficiency improvement to be paid through performance energy savings.
Vito Greco, Senior Manager, Solar Programs, of Elevate Energy, a nonprofit based in Chicago, presented on the work to bring community solar into local neighborhoods to ensure the benefits of renewable energy are accessible to everyone.
John Kinch, Executive Director for Michigan Energy Options, moderated the webinar.
- STEER Upper Peninsula Tool
Through funding from the State of Michigan Energy Office, MEO and Five Lakes Energy originally created the STEER-UP tool as an open-access integrated resource planning model for analyzing strategies to implement the Clean Power Plan. Though the implementation of the plan has been stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court, we believe STEER is still relevant to energy planning for the Upper Peninsula.
The tool automatically calculates the least-cost clean energy plan given policy options, load and price forecasts. It uses publicly available data for existing electric generating units in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. All data, inputs and formulae are visible to user and can be modified, designed to meet a balance in ease of use for the use while maintaining a high level of analytical rigor.
STEER-UP employs high resolution data: generator level data, hourly data for renewable resources, and energy efficiency options as represented in energy efficiency potential studies. In addition, the output of the STEER model identifies specific projects in which to invest or renewable resource installation to build, for least cost carbon mitigation.
Results from STEER-UP can help facilitate access to data and inform broad conversations across the Upper Peninsula and beyond about important public policy, energy planning and economic development issues and decisions.
Fluency with Excel is necessary to work with the model, but users with a range of power systems expertise can use it to create and test scenarios. Please note, this is a large Excel file and may take several minutes to download.
We are still refining the tool, updating data sets, and welcome any feedback on its usefulness and functionality. For comments, questions, or a demonstration on how to use the tool, please contact Michael Larson.
- Potential Solar Development on Brownfields
Brownfields are sites in which the redevelopment or reuse of the property may be complicated by the presence or perception of contamination. The EPA cites the redevelopment of brownfields into solar generators as one of the most adaptive reuses of such sites, providing multiple benefits.
Using this mapping tool, local officials, solar developers, utilities and others can locate brownfields and retired industrial sites within the Marquette and Houghton regions, and view the solar potential and related attributes of each site, such as acreage, proximity to transmission and substations, and site ownership. All data is approximated and is not intended to replace a detailed, site-specific assessment for solar development. Data was gathered from public sources, local officials and federal and state agencies. A State of Michigan Energy Office grant made this research project possible.
MEO’s brownfield tool utilizes the mapping engine and layer function of Google Maps to provide easy visualization of U.P. brownfields. The tool is not an exhaustive inventory of potential sites. The map consists of a series of symbols and colored lines generated over the Marquette and Houghton regions. Users can refer to the key (the green schoolhouse in the middle of the map) for guidance of symbol references.
- MSU Executive MBA Social Impact Project
Michigan State University happens to sit across the street from our East Lansing Office and our nonprofit has had a long, mutually beneficial relationship with this premier research institution. From employing MSU graduates and interns at MEO to collaborating on ambitious projects to create regional sustainability, Michigan State has been a critical resource for a nonprofit with limited resources. MEO is currently benefiting from a team of MSU Executive MBAs, who have selected us to be the focus of their “social impact” project for the next couple years. Together, we are examining ways a nonprofit can harness best business practices to be more effective at creating social good.
MEO Contact: John Kinch
- Consumers Energy 'Energy Savers' Pilot
Launched in 2014, this innovative pilot focuses on helping owners of affordable multifamily housing make deeper energy efficiency upgrades to their properties to improve their bottom line and the quality of life for their tenants. Too often, in the rental-housing sector, neither the property owner nor the tenant is motivated to make energy efficiency investments because the incentive is “split” between them. Partnering with MEO are Elevate Energy, which pioneered this program in Chicago, Consumers Energy and CleaResult.
MEO Contact: Brandon Malaski
- Department of Energy's Home Energy Score
What if you had an energy performance measure for your house like you do for your car? Everyone understands what MPG means—and many of us use this to make an informed purchase of a car. But how well a house uses energy is often an unknown to us, whether we are considering buying it or plan to live in it for years to come. The Department of Energy’s Home Energy Score seeks to rectify this “market failure” by catalyzing the use of a standard audit across the United States that gives homeowners and other stakeholders a “score” that lets them know where a house’s energy performance stands compared to others. MEO is piloting the Home Energy Score across the state.
MEO Contact: Brandon Malaski
- Advancing PACE and Other Local Energy Solutions
Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing is one of several local energy solutions that MEO and partners are bringing to communities across the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Often building owners and communities want to make energy efficiency improvements but lack local enabling policies or financial options. PACE is a financing mechanism that is gaining traction throughout the state and in 2015 MEO and partners are helping to make this happen in more places. We are also helping communities to adopt model local policies that enable clean energy advancements, such as rooftop and community solar. MEO’s partners in this project are The Ecology Center, Michigan Land Use Institute and West Michigan Environmental Action Council. This work is funded through RE-AMP, a network of nonprofits and foundations across the Midwest.
MEO Contact: Michael Larson
- Mid-Michigan Energy Study
A region-wide study of energy usage with
recommendations for greater energy efficiency
How much energy is consumed in buildings in the Mid-Michigan Region and is this energy used efficiently? And why does this matter to the economic, social and environmental future of this region? MEO’s study attempts to answer these questions and more.
This study provides a comprehensive portrait of energy usage in the built environment in the Michigan counties of Ingham, Eaton and Clinton with particular focus on a 20-mile transportation corridor between downtown Lansing and the village of Webberville.
The intention of this study, as with others like it across the country, is to gather, or “aggregate,” all the energy consumption (primarily sourced from electricity and natural gas) in a single year— in our case, 2012. That total then becomes the “baseline” from which the region can measure future annual consumption patterns whether these are steady, increasing or decreasing.The study includes data sources, references, methodology, recommendations and conclusions.
*Download and read the FULL REPORT.*Download and read the ABRIDGED REPORT.
Online Regional Energy Planning Tool
This companion project to our study allows decisions makers and stakeholders to model different future energy scenarios, taking into account changing economic growth and demographics, among other categories, over the decades to come.This tool, we believe, is extremely useful to comprehensive Regional (Community) Energy Planning.
Our study and tool were made possible, in part, from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development “Sustainable Regional Planning” grant, as well as local matching support. The Tri-County Regional Planning Commission administered the grant from 2012-2015.
MEO Contact: Henry Love