Plainfield Township, Michigan

Thanks to the Detroit News for this:

A community just north of Grand Rapids will become one, if not the first, municipality in Michigan by 2024 to install a floating solar farm that will convert sunlight for reusable power.

Plainfield Township, Michigan has partnered with White Pine Renewables, a San Francisco-based solar developer, to use a small pond that will help power the local water treatment plant, said township manager Cameron Van Wyngarden.

The floating solar panels will absorb energy from the sun and convert it to power the grid. The panels will float on a surface water treatment pond formed from an old gravel pit adjacent to the water treatment plant, Wyngarden said.

Called floating photovoltaic systems, or “floatovoltaics,” these solar arrays function the same way as panels on land, capturing sunlight to generate electricity. They sit on a floating platform and are kept in place by cables connected to the bottom of the body of water.

White Pine Renewables has a floating solar farm in Healdsburg, California, and two others in the works in the cites of Corcoran and Petaluma. The company has two ground-mounted solar projects at school districts in Adrian and the Village of Addison in Michigan, according to Evan Riley, managing partner and co-founder.

The cost of electricity from ground-mounted solar projects is less than floating farms, so White Pine initially evaluated Plainfield Township for a more traditional installation, Riley said.

Floating Solar Farm

“After going out and doing the site assessment with the city’s engineering team and the city’s utility team, we found that there just simply was not enough space by their water treatment facility to do a ground mounted project,” Riley said. “We evaluated a floating solar project and effectively found that the economics while difficult, still worked.”

The company installs floating solar projects when there is no other option, Riley said.

The goal of the solar farm is not to produce more power than necessary but an adequate amount to offload a significant portion of the water plant, Van Wyngarden said.

“Solar produces a varying amount throughout the year and that actually works really well with a water plant because we produce a varying amount of water for our customers throughout the year that tends to correspond with the seasons similar to solar,” Van Wyngarden said.

White Pine and Plainfield Township have proposed a power purchase agreement for 800 kilowatts, so the township would have zero upfront cost but would continue to buy power from the floating farm over a roughly 30 years, Van Wyngarden said.

“The intent was to reduce risk for the government on the front end but ensure that the company has a reliable customer in the long-term,” Van Wyngarden said.

Electricity from the solar farm will cost the city less than from Consumers Energy. The project will deliver savings to the township in year one, which will grow over the 35-year lifetime of the solar panels.

“We’re expecting savings in the first five years to be roughly $100,000 and then lifetime savings will exceed $2 million,” Riley said. “The way that it works is we sell energy to the city of Plainfield at a cost that is less expensive than the local utility. So the amount of money that we get is proportional to how sunny and snowy it is. … It’s a services-based contract.”

The project has been approved by Consumers Energy to be hooked up to the power grid eventually but is currently still in the contracting phase, Riley said.

Supply chain and financing issues have delayed the project, and the earliest construction could start is 2024, Van Wyngarden said. Riley is optimistic the project will be hooked up to the grid by the end of 2024.

“We’re in the contracting stage. We have our approval from Consumers to hook the project up to the grid. We have selected our local contractors,” Riley said. “We’re cleaning up a couple of final pieces with the city (Plainfield Township) before we… go to permit and to permit the project we’ll have to work with EGLE because all government agencies have to go through EGLE permitting.”

The township doesn’t have any other unused bodies of water that could be converted to floating solar farms but the planned farm would cover a quarter of the pond, leaving room for expansion in the future, Van Wyngarden said.

More info

Leave a Reply Cancel reply