Construction Begins on 10-MW MSU Solar Initiative

Construction on a new 10-MW solar array project – a venture that could save $10 million over the next 25 years and help keep tuition in check – began on March 6 at Michigan State University.

The solar generation will power the campus during the daytime hours, when demand is typically at its highest, and will generate more than 15,000 MWh annually – about 5 percent of the electricity used at MSU during a typical school year.

Overall, five solar array carports are being constructed at parking lots throughout the campus. The structures will cover most of the parking spaces in each lot and provide partial protection from inclement weather for most cars including – taller vehicles, such as RVs, for weekend tailgating. The same number of parking spots that existed before will be available after construction is completed.

MSU will cover the cost of connecting the arrays to the university’s power grid for about $2.5 million. Project investors will pay all other construction and maintenance costs –projected to be about $20 million.

The MSU Board of Trustees approved the power purchase agreement for the initiative in September 2015. The project has been contracted to and will be owned by Indiana-based Inovateus Solar, a solar installer; and by Vancouver, Canada-based Alterra Power, an independent power producer and renewable-energy developer.

The plan supports the university’s Energy Transition Plan, adopted in 2012, to improve the environment on campus, invest in sustainable energy research, and contain energy costs.

In 2014, MSU President Lou Anna Simon announced that the university would stop using coal to supply its electricity needs by the end of 2016 as part of the green initiative, according to the Detroit Free Press. In filling the gap, the university is looking toward new and green sources of energy

The partnership will allow MSU to purchase electricity produced by the solar arrays from Inovateus and Alterra at a fixed price for 25 years.

“The obvious advantage of this project for our students, faculty, and staff is cleaner air due to the emissions-free generation of electricity,” said MSU Distinguished Professor in Physics Wolfgang Bauer, who is providing assistance and input.

“However,” he said “there are significant other benefits such as reducing the university’s utility costs over time. This, in the end, will have a direct effect on keeping tuition rates as low as possible.”

“In the summer, the solar carports will provide protection from direct sunlight and prevent parked cars from heating up too much,” Bauer said. “And in the winter, the parked cars will be protected from snowfall.”

Bauer added that the new arrays offer an opportunity to conduct research, as well.

“Student teams from the College of Engineering already are working in collaboration with our faculty and Infrastructure employees on using the arrays to research topics such as new power inverter technology,” he said.

Starting this month, three lots located south of the railroad tracks on campus will be the first to undergo construction. Work on the remaining parking areas will follow, with all lots projected to be completed by the end of the year. During construction, portions of each lot will remain open for parking.

“It’s a massive step forward,” Bryn Williams, VP for Governmental Affairs with the Associated Students of Michigan State University, told the Detroit Free Press, adding, “MSU’s student government approved a resolution two years ago advocating the university halt its use of coal-fired energy.

“The university is really making strides toward the future,” he said, “and showing from the administration side that they are cognizant of what’s going on around the world with climate change.”

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