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Consumers Energy : Wolverine Power VP talks solar energy, new project at Mitchell Corp site

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01/12/2019 | 03:50am EDT

The partnership to replace the burned-out rubble of the Mitchell-Bentley building with a shiny, new solar array is unique in the experience of Wolverine Power Vice President Joseph Baumann.

"I don`t think it`s common," Baumann said regarding the development plan. "Maybe that`s what`s so exciting about it."

Baumann said if the partnership between Wolverine Power and the city of Cadillac works out, it could serve as a model for other municipalities throughout Michigan.

Wolverine Power was formed in 1948 as a power cooperative to provide diesel and fuel-generated electricity to underserved rural areas.

Today, Baumann said their 1,600-mile transmission grid carries electrons produced by a variety of sources, including solar, wind, coal and natural gas.

Wolverine Power is owned by seven members, six of which are themselves owned by rate-paying electricity customers.

An example is Great Lakes Energy, which serves customers all over northern lower Michigan.

Baumann said their seventh member is Spartan Renewable Energy, which generates electricity using solar arrays, including one on M-55 east of Cadillac and another on U.S. 131 between Cadillac and Reed City.

In November, Cadillac City Manager Marcus Peccia announced they have been working with Spartan Renewable Energy and Wolverine Power to develop a solar array at the Mitchell-Bentley property, where a large factory burned to the ground in 2013.

To do this, they intend to rely heavily on public grant dollars to get cleanup work started.

Through a grant provided by the DEQ, the site was assessed and it was determined that total cleanup costs would be around $1 million.

Peccia said they applied for $500,000 in state of Michigan brownfield grant money, in addition to $500,000 in brownfield loans.

The renewable energy produced by the facility would come at a $2,000 monthly premium cost for the city, but Peccia said the value in cleaning up and redeveloping the site is well worth it.

The electricity produced at the facility would be used to power municipal buildings, Baumann said.

Solar energy was prohibitively expensive 20 years ago, but Baumann said major advancements have been made to improve the efficiency of the technology and make it more competitive.

At this time, however, Baumann said the technology still costs more to implement and operate than traditional types like coal and natural gas, which is why it comes at a premium.

Electricity providers can be divided into three distinct types: industrial companies such as Consumers Energy and DTE; municipal providers; and cooperatives such as Wolverine Power.

Baumann said each type of provider serves territories that are dictated by law.

In Cadillac, electricity is provided by Consumers Energy, for instance.

In order for the plan between Cadillac and Wolverine Power to work out, Baumann said they will have to figure out a way to transfer the electricity to the city without violating territorial boundaries.

One possibility for achieving this would be to sell the electricity to Consumers, who would then sell it to the city, Baumann said, although this is a detail that still needs to be worked out.

A downside of solar power is that none is produced when the sun isn`t shining.

In the event the sun isn`t shining, would that affect operations at critical municipal facilities such as police and fire departments?

Baumann said since their grid is comprised of a multitude of energy sources, the flow of electricity to municipal buildings would be uninterrupted.

Innovations in battery systems that store energy produced by solar arrays to compensate for times when the sun isn`t shining are the future of this technology, Baumann said.

Although Baumann said he`s hard-pressed to predict solar power will eventually replace all types of traditional energy, he believes the technology will continue to increase in viability.

"I can`t see that far ahead," Baumann said. "But when Wolverine Power was founded, they didn`t even imagine this world we`re in now. What I can say is the world is going to change significantly."

There are some concerns in the renewable energy industry about federal tax credits disappearing in a few years, which has been hinted at by the Trump administration.

Baumann said they are hopeful this project will be off the ground and the tax credit grandfathered in before the incentive potentially could be eliminated.

While Peccia said work on the solar array won`t be happening immediately, he believes there will be some progress on the project in the next few weeks.

"I anticipate there possibly being something on the Jan. 22 agenda for consideration," Peccia said in an email to the Cadillac News.

How Does Solar Work?

The array converts the suns rays into electricity through photovoltaic (PV) cells within each panel. The cells are made with layers of boron and a phosphorous/silicon blend to create an oppositely charged electric field. When photons from sunlight pass through the panels, the photons free electrons within the PV cells to move around the electric field, generating a flow of electricity.

The electricity is then harnessed by conductive plates within the PV cells, and transferred to wires and the electric grid where it can be used to power homes and businesses.

In short, solar energy is produced when the suns rays interact with the elements that make up solar panels. The reactions from this interaction causes electrons to move, and energy is harnessed from the electrons movement and transferred to the electric grid in the form of usable electricity.

Information provided by Brittany Kielbasa, communications specialist with Wolverine Power.

(c) Publishing Rights Reserved to Bahrain News Agency 2003 - 2019 Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info)., source Middle East & North African Newspapers

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