By Scott Simons
It was October 2008 when the Clean, Renewable and Efficiency Energy Act was passed into Michigan law, encouraging the development of renewable energy projects in the state. The legislation called for DTE Energy to add about 1,200 Megawatts (MW) of renewable energy--about 10% of its energy portfolio--by 2015.
At the time, less than 1% came from renewable sources, despite the company having a long history of environmental initiatives and support for renewable and alternative energy programs.
DTE Energy, in its March 4, 2009, filing with Michigan Public Service Commission, proposed to meet the state’s goals with a combination of its own projects and renewable energy purchased from other sources in the state. And although the bulk of the energy would come from wind turbines, the company set up a two-pronged pilot solar program, SolarCurrents, that would contribute 20 MW.
DTE Energy began collecting surcharges from its business and residential customers on September 1, 2009, to cover costs associated with meeting the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, as allowed by law. Residential customers now pay a US$3-per-month surcharge, while small- and medium-size businesses pay US$16.58-per-electric meter per month. Industrial and large commercial customers pay US$187.50-per-month, per meter.
SolarCurrents Has Two Major Components:
The customer-owned program, launched in September 2009, provides Detroit Edison customers with a financial incentive to install and operate a solar Photovoltaic (PV) system between 1 and 20 kilowatts (kW). Under current program parameters, Detroit Edison will provide an upfront Renewable Energy Credit (REC) payment of US$2.40 per watt. Customers also receive a monthly credit on their bill based on 11 cents per kilowatt-hour generated.
The SolarCurrents program, combined with net metering, federal tax credits and local incentives, can save program participants more than half the cost of their photovoltaic system.
In return, Detroit Edison receives the rights to all RECs from that installation. Contracts are for 20 years and require a Parallel Operating Agreement (net metering). The pilot is limited to a total expenditure of US$25 million in incentives (up to 5 MW in total), which is anticipated to be 1,200 to 1,500 installations. As of the end of January 2011, there were 230 completed installations representing 1.4 MW and US$6.6 million committed.
The Detroit Science Center was the first commercial facility to sign a contract with Detroit Edison under this program. The 10 kW system is part of a renewable energy exhibit currently on display.
This component of SolarCurrents involves constructing up to 15 MW of Detroit Edison-owned PV installations at DTE Energy-owned facilities, and on large customer rooftops or land. As planned, this program will represent one of the largest distributed solar energy programs in the country, providing scale volume opportunities to the emerging solar manufacturing industry in Michigan. Detroit Edison plans to invest US$112 million in the utility-owned program.
The program started on March 29, 2010, when Detroit Edison issued an open-bid ‘Solicitation of Interest’ to seek host sites. Applications for 168 sites were received and are under evaluation.
The utility signed four 20-year contracts in 2010: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) for a parking structure rooftop installation, and ground installations at Monroe County Community College (MCCC), Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. These projects are scheduled to be operating by this spring with a total capacity of 1.7 MW.
“Blue Cross is making ‘green’ activities an integral part of how we do business every day,” said Tricia Keith, BCBSM Vice President, Corporate Secretary & Services. “We’re pleased to join with DTE Energy to distribute solar energy.” The 200-kW, US$1 million photovoltaic system will be installed on the roof of a four-story parking structure in downtown Detroit. Plans call for the solar array to cover 31,000 square feet of the 42,000-square-foot roof.
MCCC is the first educational institution to participate in the program and will host a US$3 million, 500 kW installation. The system also will be used as a demonstration for alternative energy education and instruction at the college, providing an opportunity for students to observe a working photovoltaic system that will generate an equivalent amount of power that would be used by about 100 homes. The installation of the system already builds on an established partnership between DTE Energy and the college to increase the availability of renewable energy training opportunities in the region.
In May 2010, the DTE Energy Foundation provided a US$45,000 grant and an additional in-kind donation of solar equipment in support of curriculum development to establish an academic program that would encompass solar, wind, hybrid and hybrid electric technologies.
The in-kind donation stemmed from DTE Energy replacing a previous solar energy installation with a new 60 kW facility in Scio Township, near Ann Arbor, Mich. The new installation was connected to the grid in November 2010. More than 100 solar panels from the previous installation, installed in 1996 as part of the U.S. Department of Energy grant, were donated to five community organizations and MCCC, which received 26 panels, various inverter controllers and disconnect switches, and racking and framing hardware.
At the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, another US$3 million, 500 kW installation will be integrated with a 750 kW energy storage facility that can store 2 million watt-hours of electricity using batteries. Xtreme Power of Austin, Texas, is supplying the on-site energy storage and power management system, which is expected to save the auto plant an estimated US$160,000 in energy costs annually. The plant produces fuel-efficient small cars, including the Focus and Focus Electric, and a next-generation hybrid vehicle and a plug-in hybrid vehicle coming next year.
“Ford is strongly committed to its sustainability strategy to support positive social change and reduce the environmental impact of its products and facilities,” said Sue Cischke, Ford group Vice President, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering.
Michigan Assembly will operate on a blend of renewable and conventional electricity. The renewable energy collected by the solar installation will go directly into the energy-efficient microgrid to help provide power to the plant.
DTE Energy hopes to build solar energy systems on the scale it’s pursuing will increase demand for PV technologies, and to attract renewable energy manufacturers and green jobs to Michigan.
Scott Simons is Senior Specialist of the DTE Energy (http://www.dteenergy.com/), in which he serves as a company spokesperson, counsels senior management and organizational units on media-related issues, and participates on the company’s crisis communications team. He began his career as a journalist, working for daily newspapers in North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois and Michigan. Simons has won several journalism and public relations awards and is past president of the Detroit chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from Central Michigan University and is accredited in public relations.
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