Grand Rapids receives approval for filtration plant solar project

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The variance approval allows the city of Grand Rapids to install a nearly 1-megawatt, ground-mounted solar array in the northwest corner of the Lake Michigan Filtration Plant property, 17350 Lake Michigan Drive in West Olive. Courtesy city of Grand Rapids

The city of Grand Rapids’ work to supply its Lake Michigan Filtration Plant with on-site renewable solar energy is one step closer to reality thanks to an affirmative vote by the Grand Haven Charter Township Zoning Board of Appeals.

The variance approval allows the city of Grand Rapids to install a nearly 1-megawatt, ground-mounted solar array in the northwest corner of the Lake Michigan Filtration Plant (LMFP) property, 17350 Lake Michigan Drive in West Olive.

The solar installation will save the Grand Rapids Water Department an estimated net $1.2 million over 24 years, increase the city’s renewable energy performance from 37% to 41% and will eliminate 700 to 1,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents — equal to removing 150 to 200 passenger vehicles from the road.

For the last few years, Grand Rapids has been evaluating the costs and environmental benefits of installing on-site solar at its facilities and properties. Recent studies showed installing behind-the-meter, ground-mounted solar arrays at the 67-acre LMFP site would achieve increased use of renewable energy and cost savings for the city.

The city partnered with CMS Energy and its ES Services subsidiary on developing a plan for installing a nearly 1-megawatt, ground-mounted solar array on 3.5 acres at the LMFP.

The Grand Haven Charter Township Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved the city’s variance application, which was required to install the solar array in its front yard, the only viable location for the array. In addition to the panels, the city also will plant a pollinator field at the location of the array and a 3-foot tall landscape berm with native species along Lakeshore and Lake Michigan drives to enhance the general appearance of the property.

“We value our relationship with Grand Haven Charter Township and thank the Zoning Board of Appeals for this approval,” said Alison Waske Sutter, sustainability and performance management officer. “Installing a 1-megawatt, behind-the-meter solar array at our LMFP is the result of the collaboration of many and the team’s dedication to bringing a large-scale solar project to the greater Grand Rapids area. Solar is an economically viable option for energy production and one that improves air quality, decreases carbon emissions and enhances climate resilience.”

The city still requires approval from the Grand Haven Charter Township Planning Commission approval for a site plan and building and electrical permits. The solar array could be operational in September or October.

After the Grand Haven Charter Township decision, Julio Morales, CMS Energy executive director for strategic customer relations, said, “We’re pleased with the decision and look forward to moving ahead with the city and township on additional details.”

The city of Grand Rapids is a regional provider of drinking water to municipalities in Kent and Ottawa counties. The LMFP serves a population of over 300,000 by treating water from Lake Michigan and pumping it to a service area of 137 square miles.

The LMFP used 17,236,501 kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2020, which was 23% of all electricity used by city of Grand Rapids municipal operations. The city has a goal to supply municipal operations with 100% renewable energy by June 30, 2025. The city currently sources 37% renewable energy.

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