TRAVERSE CITY — A program that allows locals to lease solar panels from their utility earned industry recognition.
The Solar Up North (SUN) Alliance program, a partnership between Cherryland Electric Cooperative and Traverse City Light and Power, allows customers to lease a solar panel for $470 with a $75 rebate. Customers get a return on their energy bill, usually around $2, for the amount of energy their panel produced.
The program will win the “Exemplary Project” award from the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association this year. The project is making waves on the national level as well: Cherryland General Manager Tony Anderson was selected to teach a solar workshop at a national conference for cooperatives.
The project is the first community solar project in Michigan, and other utilities expressed interest in trying to emulate it.
“We were very impressed with Cherryland and Traverse City Light & Power when we found out they were already developing a program we could point to,” said John Sarver, the executive director of GLREA. “When we were thinking of an exemplary project, there was nobody else to choose this year.”
The SUN program isn’t only the first community solar project in the state, but also the culmination of cooperation between two electricity providers.
“The partnership with Traverse City Light & Power is unique, and the fact we were able to get the price point below $500 is very unique,” Anderson said. “We’re proud of the fact that maybe we’ve got some momentum going across the state and we did a little something to start that.”
Grants and incentives available to cooperatives trimmed the cost; so too did what Anderson said was a good deal on installation.
Both Anderson and Tim Arends, the executive director of Traverse City Light & Power, said they’ve fielded questions from other utilities about the program.
One program advantage is that customers who can’t install solar panels on their homes because of tree cover or costs can still support solar energy efforts.
“I think it’s significant because it finally gave people the opportunity that they’ve been requesting that utilities invest in solar,” said Arends.
Just under 160 solar panels are in use, Anderson said. Cherryland Electric installed 224 panels on its property, but the panels don’t go online until they’re leased.
Some environmentalists contend the utilities aren’t going far enough to use renewable energy, despite the accolades.
“I think it’s a token. It’s a start, but certainly not what’s going to serve citizens of Traverse City,” said Ann Rogers, a co-chair of the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council and who participates in the solar panel program. She believes more roofs in town should have solar panels.
The solar panels went online on April 22 and have produced 2,247 kilowatt-hours since, through Nov. 25.
“We believe there’s not one silver bullet for energy. We believe if were going to have affordable energy in the future, we have to have a little bit of everything,” said Anderson.