By Chris Hung
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter
In Meridian Township’s ongoing effort to become a more environmentally-friendly community, the township is investigating the solar alternative for energy production.
With numbers provided by the Solar Energy Industries Association, almost 784,000 residents and businesses in the United States have switched to the usage of solar energy in some degree during the first half of 2015 alone. Meridian Township is among those considering the growing trend of alternative energy usage.
In early February, David Gard, a senior consultant with 5 Lakes Energy, gave a presentation at the township’s board meeting about the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s plan to implement more solar energy options for electricity customers in the form of community solar parks. Customers will be able to lease solar panels in these parks to contribute in their energy usage.
Currently, the United States is second behind China as the world’s leading producer of carbon dioxide emissions as the result of burning fossil fuels. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2014, 38 percent of these emissions come from the electric power sector. Meridian Township can do its part to curb these numbers in the leasing of these new solar panels.
“I think solar energy is viable as a long-term solution for helping us burn fossil fuels less,” said Gard. “Saving energy through efficiency is the most cost-effective way to meet our energy needs going forward, so we should maximize its use in all sectors of the economy – residential, commercial, and industrial.”
Gard stated that the BWL would construct two new solar parks as part of this project. One will be located in East Lansing, and one in Lansing.
In Meridian Township alone 922 residential, one industrial, and 194 commercial BWL customers are reported to be able to take advantage of these new solar arrays. Each new solar array will consist of 1,000 individual solar panels and can produce just over 3 percent of an average participating household’s energy in just a single panel lease.
According to the BWL, it would take 29 of these panels alone to account for an average U.S. household’s total electricity usage.
While the township has not yet confirmed whether it will lease some of these panels for itself yet, Meridian Township Principal Planner Gail Oranchak describes that the response among the board has certainly been positive.
The BWL already operates the existing Cedar Street Solar Array, located across the street from the John F. Dye Water Conditioning Plant. This array, which is smaller than the two that are to be constructed, offsets up to 250 tons of carbon dioxide annually from entering the atmosphere with the energy that it produces in place of burning fossil fuels.
The purpose of these arrays is to offer clean energy for customers, without having to make space on the customer’s property for solar panels. According to Gard, 80 percent of residential buildings and 40 percent of businesses nationwide are unable to implement solar panels because of tree shading or other factors, but offers that the community solar arrays are a strong alternative.
Meridian Township BWL customers will be able to participate in the solar project by pre-registering at the BWL’s website dedicated to project. The upfront cost of leasing a single panel is one payment of $399, allowing participants to see an economic return for their investment after about 12 to 13 years of use out of the 25 year lease plan.