Plainfield Twp. approves first floating solar project in Michigan

Kent County

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Plainfield Township will be the first community in the state to use floating solar panels to help reduce energy costs.

The township board approved a plan this month that will allow solar panels in a corner of a former gravel pit turned reservoir. The panels will be floating near the water treatment plant.

Mathew Riley with Whitepine Renewables says the project will produce about 800 kilowatts.

The panels will also decrease evaporation from the reservoir and reduce algae.

“This is going to be one of the larger non-utility projects in the state of Michigan and, of course, the only floating project in the state of Michigan and possibly the Midwest,” Riley said.

The company has already created the biggest floating solar farm in the U.S. in California and sees potential for the technology in Michigan.

“The solar panels most of the time are identical. The difference here is what they’re going to be mounted on. We’re gonna have them mounted on something similar to a floating dock that you would pull your boat up to. The dock of course would be much more durable,” Riley said.

Cameron Van Wyngarden, the manager of Plainfield Township, says the community does not have to pay for the equipment and will be able to purchase energy at a discounted rate.

“It’s open. It doesn’t require any removal of trees to put in the installation so it made a lot of sense for us,” Van Wyngarden said. “The private company will fund the installation. They will manage the solar installation and we agree to buy the power from them.”

He says the panels will produce about 30% of what the water plant needs, which adds up to a major savings overtime.

“Our early estimates are that the solar installation will save us about $15,000 in power costs the first year, and multiply that over a 35 year agreement we’re looking at tens of thousands —potentially millions — of dollars in savings in electrical costs for water customers,” Van Wyngarden said. 

The installation process could begin as soon as next year. The goal is to have the panels fully operational in 2023.

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