‘U’ begins construction of North Campus solar panels

By Ariana Assaf, For the Daily
Published October 31, 2012

Students soaking up the sun this spring will be joined by new solar panels on the grassy hills by the North Campus Research Complex.

On Sept. 27, 2011, the University announced its plans to work with DTE energy in constructing solar panels outside the NCRC. After about a year of discussions, the project has started to become a reality when ground was broken last week at the complex near Plymouth Road.

Terrance Alexander, the executive director of the Office of Campus Sustainability, said the time between the announcement and construction of the solar panels was necessary to finalize contract negotiations and find a suitable spot for the panels.

According to Alexander, in addition to ensuring a spot in which the panels would receive ample sun exposure, contractors had to make certain that no existing infrastructure would be disturbed when the panel supports were implanted into the soil. He also said the University wanted to be sure that these solar panels would not conflict with any future building plans.

DTE spokesman Scott Simons said the selected location needed to be capable of supporting installation of the panels while also being “highly visible to the public.” He said he expects the whole project to be completed in about three or four months, and reported the total amount invested in the project as $2.2 million.

University President Mary Sue Coleman presented the undertaking in 2011 as part of the University’s sustainability goals. Coleman also announced a $14 million University investment in sustainability projects, which included new hybrid University buses.

The panels are part of DTE’s SolarCurrents project, in which DTE purchases land from various owners to assemble solar panels. The contract details that DTE has full ownership of the equipment and the energy it produces, and will pay the University a certain amount to use land, depending on the size of the solar panel array.

Alexander said the University will benefit from DTE’s solar panels, explaining the power purchased from DTE by the University will now have more alternative energy “in the mix.”

DTE began SolarCurrents in response to Michigan’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires 10 percent of the energy conducted by any individual energy company to be generated from renewable sources by 2015, according to DTE. Upon completion, these panels will have the capacity to conduct 430 kilowatts of energy, Simons said.

Alexander said he hopes having a working renewable energy source on campus will be beneficial to students working in related fields.

University alum Justin Moyer, a member of the Sustainable and Alternative Energy Student Council, said he supports the solar panels, adding that renewable energy is something the entire country should strive to utilize.

"It seems like a good sustainability effort from the University," Moyer said. “.. The U.S. should be making efforts to source electricity from renewables."