By Todd Schulz

Solar power is a key component in our plan to lead Michigan’s clean energy transformation.

Soon, we’ll also tap the sun to power facilities providing natural gas to our customers.

Plans are underway to install solar panels and battery storage at the White Pigeon Compressor Station, which helps safely transport natural gas through our vast delivery system to homes and businesses throughout the state.

The approximately 300-kilowatt (kW) solar array and 150-kW battery will produce and store clean, renewable electricity to help the environment, reduce electric bills and increase operational efficiency at the compressor station. The project is scheduled to come online in spring 2022.

“This is about saving money and going green,” project manager Paul Fitton said.

White Pigeon, one of eight compressor stations in our system, is in St. Joseph County near the Indiana border. The facility boasts eight operable compressor units collectively capable of generating nearly 28,000 horsepower.

Indiana-Michigan Power, based in Fort Wayne, Ind., supplies electricity to White Pigeon. Roughly 40 percent of the station’s current monthly electric bill is a capacity charge driven by peak usage. The new system should help shave those peaks by tapping solar power stored in the battery when the station needs it most.

The solar and battery installation will generate electricity solely to help run the compressor station — not produce excess power that’s sold into the wholesale power market. The project will include about 700 solar panels covering roughly 1.5 acres at the site.

“Learning how to shave power peaks is name of the game,” Fitton said. “This is a learning opportunity that will allow us to try some things in a safe environment and give us a real insight into our energy usage.”

The solar project, estimated at roughly $900,000, is expected to lower White Pigeon’s electric bills by 40 percent, generating roughly $60,000 in annual savings for our customers. Indiana-Michigan Power has provided invaluable help throughout the process.

The White Pigeon project requires expertise on both the electric and natural gas sides of Consumers Energy, Herrygers said. The Electric Solar team responsible for projects that supply Consumers Energy customers — including our Solar Gardens facilities at Cadillac, Western Michigan University and Grand Valley State University — is designing the White Pigeon system in concert with the Compression team to ensure a safe and reliable installation. Likewise, the Renewables Operations team will provide maintenance when it’s operational.

“We’ve spent quite a bit of time with them to understand our bills,” Fitton said. “They’ve been very cooperative and provided access to every resource we could want in setting this up.”

If the White Pigeon pilot is successful, we may expand solar and battery installations at our remaining compressor stations, including those where Consumers Energy supplies the electricity, said Steve Herrygers, Director of Gas Compression Engineering.

Each year, we’re adding more clean, renewable, solar-generated electricity to our portfolio. Under the updated Clean Energy Plan released in June, we plan to add nearly 8,000 megawatts of solar power to meet Michigan’s energy needs through 2040.

“When the idea of putting solar panels on the property came up, we reached out to gather their insight on the feasibility of the concept,” Herrygers said. “We wanted to start small at a place that makes a lot of sense. White Pigeon has the right geography with open green space and access to the sun.”