Consumers Energy, communities can work together to reap solar power benefits

Our Clean Energy Plan is a landmark 20-year blueprint to meet our state’s energy needs while protecting the environment we all cherish. We want to eliminate coal and dramatically boost renewable energy to help achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040.

That’s why we’re planning to add 8,000 megawatts of competitively bid, utility-scale solar power by 2040 — when solar power will comprise more than half of our electric capacity.

It’s a big goal. One we won’t reach without support from landowners and communities throughout Michigan, especially in rural and agricultural areas.

We’re searching for tens of thousands of acres of land for utility-scale solar projects. And we want to work with local leaders interested in siting solar power plants that can deliver environmental and economic benefits for their communities.

Since 1886, we’ve operated with Michigan’s best interests in mind. Tapping solar power to help communities and create a brighter energy future is the next exciting chapter in our shared story.

Answers to Your Questions About Solar Expansion

Why is Consumers Energy sold on solar?

In addition to its environmental benefits, solar is increasingly cost competitive and we can add it gradually to meet Michigan’s changing energy needs without building a large, new fossil fuel power plant. We’ve already begun adding more clean, renewable, solar-generated electricity for Michigan and plan to bring 1,100 megawatts of solar capacity online by 2025. We plan to own 50 percent of this additional solar capacity and purchase the remaining half from solar developers, who also are often seeking to buy property of leasing rights.

What does this opportunity mean for Michigan communities?

Welcoming solar to your community can increase a community’s revenue to help fund education and critical basic services. Solar power plants can also provide income for participating landowners from the sale of property or ongoing easement agreements.

How much land does a community need for solar and where are the best locations?

Generating solar energy requires significant tracts of land — between five and 10 acres per megawatt of electricity — that’s flat, open and treeless with direct access to the sun. That said, we expect to meet our solar energy targets using less than 2 percent of the farmland in Michigan. Ideal project sites for utility-scale solar power plants are about 500 to 900 acres and are often comprised of multiple, neighboring landowners. We’re considering potential locations such as farm fields — including those less ideal for growing crops — brownfield sites and publicly owned properties. Distance to existing transmission infrastructure is also a critical factor for solar developments. The closer, the better. Lack of access or long distances to high-voltage transmission and distribution can increase costs and other siting issues.

Can Consumers Energy offer insights on local regulations for solar projects?

Yes. We have examples of favorable local solar ordinances that enable safe, successful projects while protecting the communities, landowners, wildlife and the environment. Setbacks and fencing, for example, are two common areas where we have experience and can suggest commonsense solutions. You can count on us as a good corporate neighbor. We maintain and operate our facilities according to the highest safety and environmental standards and abide by local solar regulations.

How does a solar array affect property values?

The presence of solar does not appear to make a significant impact for landowners or neighbors. Property values are determined by a wide variety of factors, including the preferences of individual buyers, making it difficult to draw general conclusions.

Do landowners in a community have to sell all property to participate in a solar project?

Not necessarily. Though we prefer to purchase land, our goal is to meet Michigan’s property owners where they are to start a conversation about mutually beneficial solar solutions. While some may feel ready to sell their acreage, others may want to keep working portions of their property, lease easement rights or discuss how to buy back land if technology reduces operational footprints or solar production ceases decades from now.

How does a solar project affect the land?

New solar installations have minimal impact on land. Topsoil is left in place and solar array sites are seeded with native grasses and pollinating plants to promote biodiversity. Land can generally be used for a variety of purposes, including farming, after serving as a solar installation.

What’s the impact on the environment and local wildlife?

Protecting the planet is one of our top priorities and solar is a responsible environmental choice that highlights our commitment to Michigan’s ecosystem. Solar panels don’t leach or emit any harmful chemicals into the soil or the air and aren’t expected to negatively affect local wildlife. We’ll complete a detailed environmental inventory of the project area and will work with landowners and applicable federal, state and local agencies to consider all environmental concerns. This includes identifying and protecting any threatened or endangered species and their habitats.

How will solar impact electric reliability for Michigan?

As optimistic as we are about the future of solar energy, we understand the sun doesn’t always shine — especially in Michigan. That’s one reason our Clean Energy Plan also includes the proposed purchase of an existing natural gas-fired power plant in Covert. This plant, along with our current natural gas power plants in Zeeland and Jackson, will supply reliable, on-demand electricity to meet Michigan’s energy needs when renewables such as solar and other sources are not available. We’re also counting on battery technology to help us store electricity generated by solar and other renewable energy sources. We’ll save it for those times when solar production is challenging to help meet demand for power on the grid.

How does a solar array impact my neighbors?

Solar panels have minimal impact for nearby residents. Their visual profile is minimal — particularly compared to wind energy. Panels are installed strategically to reduce any visible glare and don’t impact internet, phone, or satellite services. Solar panels do not make any noise. There can be a low humming noise associated with electrical equipment connecting solar panels to the grid, but sound studies can ensure noise is at acceptable levels defined by local zoning ordinances

Learn more about solar and how we can work together. Visit: ConsumersEnergy.com/MiSolar