We’re pioneering solar power to build a cleaner energy future for Michigan and protect the planet.

Fittingly, we’re planning one of our first utility-scale solar projects with a community partner who knows plenty about innovating to improve the environment.

The Muskegon Solar Energy Center is a unique collaboration between Muskegon County, Moorland Township and Consumers Energy to use available land at the county’s wastewater treatment site to generate clean, reliable energy — and more revenue — for the local community.

The 11,000-acre Muskegon County Resource Recovery Center is a one-of-a-kind facility that’s reliably treated wastewater for 50 years. The recovery center even runs a working farm, using the treated water for irrigation to grow crops.

The Muskegon Solar Energy Center is a 250-megawatt facility capable of supplying, clean, renewable electricity to about 40,000 homes. The project is part of the 8,000-megawatt solar buildup proposed in our Clean Energy Plan a 20-year blueprint to eliminate coal and dramatically boost the amount of renewable electricity we generate for customers.

That makes the project, built on a 1,900-acre footprint at the site, a merger of two bright ideas.

“We both serve people and we both provide something everybody needs,” said Dave Johnson, Director of the Resource Recovery Center. “The solar project seems like a good fit – it’s something we’re proud of and thankful for.”

A Bold Solution to Pollution

Located in Moorland Township, the Muskegon County Resource Recovery Center was born of necessity in the late 1960s when Muskegon County was generating more wastewater than it could process.

Millions of gallons of industrial wastewater – much of it produced by businesses such as paper mills, foundries and metal finishers – were flowing directly into Muskegon Lake. Swimming and boating were unpleasant and becoming unsafe.

“People began to be alarmed by the quality of the lake,” Johnson said. “It became so degraded, they could no longer enjoy being out there.”

Desperate to tackle the pollution problem, Muskegon County commissioners turned to a Chicago-based engineering firm that suggested using a still emerging technology called a “living filter.” After a visit to Penn State University, where scientists were evaluating the technique to manage campus wastewater, the commissioners were quickly sold on the idea.

The Resource Recovery Center opened in 1973, using a land treatment process encompassing 11,000 acres of aeration and settling basins, storage lagoons, and irrigated cropland to safely treat the wastewater.

“Looking back, it was a little audacious and presumptuous because the technology was still very experimental,” Johnson said. “At the same time, it wound up working. It’s truly an amazing story.”

How It Works

The Muskegon County Resource Recovery Center can reliably manage up to 42 million gallons of wastewater each day, using biological treatment followed by slow-rate irrigation and rapid sand filtration.

Wastewater from homes and businesses is piped to the site and flows through a series of “cells” and a lagoon where bacteria break down the organic chemicals and solids are removed by naturally settling to the bottom.

What’s primarily left are nitrogen and phosphorus – two primary ingredients in fertilizer. That’s removed by spraying the water on 5,000 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa, all of which are harvested and sold to help offset the cost of wastewater treatment for county residents.

Finally, the clean, treated water trickles through the soil, is captured by drain tiles and piped back to the Muskegon River. Learn more about the process here.

Continuing a Proud Legacy

After recently celebrating 50 years of operation, the Resource Recovery Center will now welcome the Muskegon Solar Energy Center. The unused acreage at the county wastewater treatment plant is an ideal site that’s flat and open with direct access to the sun.

Consumers Energy plans to own and run the project, which would begin operation in 2026. 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.

Utility-scale solar projects also offer a significant source of ongoing revenue to help communities like Muskegon County and Moorland Township pay for education and critical infrastructure. We’ll lease the property for the project, creating additional income for the Resource Recovery Center.

“This solar farm fulfills the vision of the Muskegon County Commissioners,” Johnson said. “It will benefit the users of the Muskegon County wastewater system as well as Moorland Township and the Ravenna School District.”

Learn more about our solar plans and how they benefit Michigan communities here.