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March 7, 2013

Cherryland eyes solar panel project

TRAVERSE CITY — Cherryland Electric Cooperative wants to launch a solar power project in Grawn, and Traverse City residents may be partners in the clean energy endeavor.

Cherryland General Manager Tony Anderson said the co-op plans to construct a solar panel array at the cooperative's headquarters on U.S. 31. The project would start with 48 solar panels, but Anderson envisions 360 panels or more at the site, if customer demand is strong.

"By everybody coming together, we can make it affordable and see if the community wants solar," Anderson said.

Cherryland hopes Traverse City Light & Power will join the project. A decision whether to allow TCL&P customers to lease solar panels alongside Cherryland members ultimately will be up to the municipal utility's board of directors.

"TCL&P has been talking about doing a community solar project for a couple years and it's gone nowhere," said TCL&P Interim Director Tim Arends. "This is an opportunity to allow people who want solar to be a part of the project."

Cherryland will retain ownership of the solar panels, then lease them to customers for a one-time fee of $470 per panel. Customers will receive an approximate $2 rebate per bill in return.

Participating customers can expect to break even on the investment in about 20 years. That time frame could be shortened with energy optimization credits for customers.

Anderson said one of his goals is to offer solar energy without subsidies.

"If you want to displace some coal, here’s an opportunity to do that," Anderson said. "An opportunity to put up some of your money and realize you aren’t going to break even for about 20 years."

TCL&P is on the hunt for a new executive director after board members ousted former director Ed Rice in October. Arends attempted to dispel rumors that Cherryland and TCL&P might merge.

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