Detroit council approves 10-acre solar energy array

By Joe Guillen, Gannett Writer
From the Detroit Free Press

The Detroit City Council today unanimously approved a 20-year lease with DTE Energy that will allow the utility to build a 10-acre solar energy array on vacant city-owned land on the west side.

Members of Mayor Mike Duggan's administration described the project as a catalyst to enhance the neighborhood, along with concurrent plans to use federal funds for nearby blight demolition and a commitment to train residents for "green collar" jobs focused on the reuse of vacant land.

The array will be built on 10 acres south of I-96 at Greenfield Road known as O'Shea Playground, which was decommissioned by the city's recreation department in 2011. The project could be completed by the end of the year, according to a DTE spokeswoman.

Before the council's vote, City Council members pressed supporters of the project about their efforts to thoroughly inform the community about the project. In addition to four community meetings prior to today's vote, city officials committed to hold additional meetings with residents to discuss forthcoming park improvements to the O'Shea site, economic development opportunities and other aspects of the project.

City Council President Brenda Jones asked DTE officials and members of Duggan's administration if this is a project they would want in their neighborhood. All answered affirmatively.

“I would absolutely want it in my community if it was immaculately designed,” Detroit planning and development director Maurice Cox said. "This is probably going to be the best looking solar array in the country by the time we finish it.”

Under terms of the 20-year lease, the city will receive a one-time payment from DTE of $25,000. DTE also has agreed to maintain a portion of the city property around the 10-acre solar array. The value of the maintenance, which the city would otherwise be responsible for, is estimated at more than $400,000 over the life of the lease. DTE's use of the land also would put the property on the tax rolls, generating about $1.4 million in new tax revenue over the 20 years.

Plans for the solar array in Detroit stem from a larger, 250-acre DTE solar energy project in Lapeer, where the utility is developing what it calls the "largest utility-owned solar array east of the Mississippi." The project at two sites there will generate about 50 megawatts, enough to power 9,000 average-size homes with zero-emission solar energy, according to DTE.

The portion of the project to be built in Detroit will be enough to generate two megawatts. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington-based trade association, one megawatt of solar energy can power an average of 164 homes.

Energy from the solar panels in Detroit, however, will not directly power homes near the project, said Rodney Cole, DTE manager of regional relations.

"It's just like any other generation-type of operation, the power goes into the grid," Cole said. "It goes to the benefit of everyone that's in the grid."

Relocating a portion of the massive Lapeer project to Detroit will cost DTE $1 million more than if it had built the entire project in Lapeer, according to the company. That cost is in addition to the lease payment, property taxes and other costs in Detroit.

DTE officials have credited Duggan with convincing the company to bring part of its solar energy efforts to Detroit.

"It's just a great opportunity to be a good corporate citizen," Cole said. "It's the right thing to do. This is the right thing to bring to the city and we're happy to be involved with it."

An example of the solar array that would be built on a 20-acre, Detroit-owned site south of I-96 at Greenfield Road known as O’Shea Playground.