Street Talk: Where the sun does shine

Howdy, neighbor.
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Consumers Energy needs some help to attain its goal of reaching 8,000 megawatts of utility-scale solar energy by 2040, when more than 60% of its electric capacity will come from renewable sources.

Simply put, the utility needs landowner partners. Lots and lots of partners, because Consumers is searching for “tens of thousands” of acres throughout the state.

Solar is the centerpiece of the company’s Clean Energy Plan to meet Michigan’s energy needs over the next 20 years while protecting the environment by eliminating coal and achieving net zero carbon emissions.

“We need support throughout Michigan, especially in rural and agricultural areas, and we want to work with landowners and local leaders interested in siting solar power plants to deliver environmental and economic benefits for their communities,” said Dennis Dobbs, vice president of enterprise project management and environmental services for Consumers. “Harnessing the sun is Michigan’s moonshot — and we won’t achieve this historic goal without help.”

Consumers already has begun adding 1,100 megawatts of solar capacity to come online by 2024. It plans to own 50% of this additional solar capacity and purchase the remaining half from solar developers.

Utility-scale solar projects capable of generating about 100 megawatts provide the best value for customers. They also require significant amounts of land — between 5 and 10 acres per megawatt of electricity — that’s flat, open and treeless with direct access to the sun and proximity to existing transmission infrastructure, Dobbs said.

Ideal project sites for solar power plants are about 500 to 900 acres and often are comprised of multiple, neighboring landowners. Potential locations include farm fields, including those less ideal for growing crops; brownfield sites; and publicly owned properties.

With solar leading the way, the company’s proposed Clean Energy Plan would reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by more than 63 million tons. That’s the equivalent of removing 12.4 million passenger vehicles from the road for one year.

In addition to its environmental benefits, Dobbs said solar is increasingly cost competitive and Consumers can add it gradually to meet Michigan’s changing energy needs without building a large, new fossil fuel power plant.

Siting solar power plants also provides economic benefits for landowners and communities.

Participating landowners may sell us their property or create an ongoing revenue source by entering into long-term easement agreements, he said.

Solar power plants create hundreds of construction jobs and can increase a community’s revenue to help fund education and critical basic services.

“Our goal is to meet Michigan’s property owners and communities where they are to start a conversation about mutually beneficial solar solutions,” Dobbs said.

Large landowners or community officials who want to learn more about potential for siting can visit ConsumersEnergy.com/misolar to provide basic details about their property and begin a discussion with company solar experts.

Neighborly advice

It’s probably safe to assume the queen of nosy neighbors, Gladys Kravitz (look it up!), need not apply, but the eighth annual Grand Rapids Neighborhood Summit will welcome anyone else living within the city limits.

The summit takes place on May 21 at Grand Valley State University’s downtown Pew Campus, 401 W. Fulton St. Or, if you’d prefer to stay behind the curtains, a virtual option is available.

The annual daylong learning experience is centered around the event’s core values of resident voice and racial equity. This year’s theme is Building Equitable and Healthy Communities. The gathering brings Grand Rapids residents and stakeholders together to learn, strategize and connect. City officials say the bonds created at the Summit strengthen neighborhoods and belonging in community and help make Grand Rapids a more equitable place for all to live, work and play. 

Registration is free with two attendance options – in-person and virtual. In-person attendance is limited as a COVID-19 precaution. Virtual attendance is unlimited. Keep in mind GVSU’s policy requires that all in-person visitors show proof of COVID-19 vaccination upon arrival and will be asked to wear a mask while indoors.

The event begins with continental breakfast at 8 a.m. and the program runs 9 a.m.-4 p.m., followed by a community celebration from 4-5:30 p.m. featuring music, appetizers and refreshments.

Virtual attendees will have access to the opening and closing sessions, keynote speaker and workshops with a chat function to ask questions and offer comments.

“An equitable community is a healthy community where all people can thrive,” said Stacy Stout, director of equity and engagement for the city of Grand Rapids. “Racism, in all its forms, is a threat to the health of all of us. Our theme this year is based on the social and political determinates of health and was inspired in part by the recent resolutions declaring racism as a public health crisis in Grand Rapids and Michigan, and by our community’s desire to undo racism and heal the harm it causes. It’s a call to educate ourselves and act within our spheres of influence to advance policies, practices and efforts that foster equity, justice and belonging in our neighborhoods, social and family circles, organizations and city.”

Neighborhood Summit features an opening keynote presentation; several workshop options; lunch and lunchtime activities such as a photo booth, Zumba, yoga and several community-resource tables; recognition of Grand Rapids residents for their leadership with Neighborhood Match Fund projects; Anishinaabe opening and closing drum presentations; and the closing community celebration. Children ages 5-12 of Grand Rapids residents attending the event can participate in Kids Summit at the same time and place. The specially curated, daylong interactive learning opportunity is provided free of charge.

If you can’t attend the May 21 event, there will be a similar opportunity later this summer. A Summit Marketplace Park Party is scheduled for Saturday, July 16, at Garfield Park, 250 Burton St. SE. That event will feature several community-resource tables and the Summit Marketplace, which promotes Black, Indigenous and People of Color-owned businesses, entertainment, children’s activities, and opportunities to learn about and engage with city and community initiatives.

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