The city of Grand Rapids issued a request for proposals in January for the proposed large-scale solar array project planned for the old Butterworth landfill site.
The solar generation project would allow the city to utilize solar energy to run its wastewater treatment plant, which is located across the Grand River from the former landfill on Market Street.
Haris Alibasic, director of the city’s Office of Energy & Sustainability, said the completed project would generate approximately 4 megawatts of solar energy.
“It would directly be powering electricity to existing operations at the wastewater treatment plant,” he said.
Alibasic said he could not provide an estimate on the project’s total cost at this time.
The idea for the project came a few years ago following EPA-supervised remediation to cap the 190-acre site, which has been classified as a superfund site. It moved forward in 2013, when the EPA paid $30,000 to hire consulting firm Skeo Solutions to conduct a feasibility study of the project.
“The study basically showed there is a potential at this site,” Alibasic said. “There are three particular areas (where) we could be looking to develop large-scale solar, but (we will) most likely develop it in the area more adjacent to the river, closer to 196, in order to be able to deliver electricity directly across the river to the wastewater treatment plant.”
The city plans to enter into a power purchase agreement with whichever developer is chosen for the project.
The arrangement would allow the city the opportunity to buy electricity at a lower or equal cost over a period of time than what it currently pays, which ideally provides the payback for the city.
“We would basically buy that electricity from the site, and they would deliver it directly to our operations,” Alibasic said. “That way the city would not be investing up front.”
In addition to no initial investment cost for the city, another reason for the arrangement is that a developer would be able to take advantage of incentives the city could not, as a public entity.
Alibasic said, eventually, the city might take over ownership of the project, which is known as a flip arrangement.
“This is all speculative at this point in time,” he cautioned.
The city began experimenting with solar energy several years ago, incorporating panels on its buildings’ rooftops. The Butterworth project would be its first large-scale foray into solar energy.
“We have a solar panel project at our existing water administration building that has been working really well, and it’s one of the reasons we decided to move ahead in exploring larger-scale projects,” Alibasic said.
The city has a goal of generating all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and the Butterworth project is another step in that direction. Right now the city has achieved 26 percent renewable energy generation. It has also reduced its overall energy consumption by 14 percent since 2007.
Alibasic said solar energy is a good fit for Grand Rapids, because it’s easy to manage onsite and doesn’t require visible infrastructure, which has been common with wind-generating proposals.
He expects a developer will be selected sometime in May. A power purchase agreement would then need to be approved by the city commission. The earliest the solar site could be up and running would be July 2016.