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Michigan State UniversityMichigan State UniversityInfrastructure Planning and Facilities

Solar carport initiative

Michigan State University Board of Trustees approved the planning to create five solar carport locations on the MSU campus during their September 11, 2015 meeting. The solar carports advance the Energy Transition Plan by improving the environment, investing in sustainable energy research, containing rising energy costs and development and positioning MSU as a leader of sustainable energy. The university plans to purchase all power produced by the solar arrays at a fixed rate through a 25 year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

Why solar PV?

  • Solar photovoltaic (PV) is efficient because it uses natural energy from the sun and does not rely on fossil fuels.
  • Minimal maintenance will be required because the solar PVs will be constructed on an angle creating a safe run-off for weathering and debris, and there are no moving components.
  • The solar array will produce electrical power at the time of day that demand is typically the highest enabling the power plant to operate more efficiently.

Why is solar PV a good solution for MSU?

The solar PV project will be one component of a long-term strategic solution that will provide cost effective, reliable power to MSU for the foreseeable future. Additional components to the long-term strategy are being studied and will develop over the next few years.

What are the long-term effects?

  • Five percent of campus will be supported by its own renewable energy production.
  • Electricity produced will be purchased at a fixed price for the length of the 25 year contract.
  • The solar carports will be a catalyst for additional renewable projects on campus, in Michigan and in the mid-west

Is solar PV reliable?

Solar PV will generate power during daylight hours. Cloud coverage may cause some decrease in the total production capability of the array. During these times MSU will meet the power demand by using the power plant or the tie line to the local utility.

Is the Lansing area too cloudy for solar PV?

No. Modern solar PV arrays produce electricity even on cloudy, winter days, just not as much as on a sunny, summer day.

How much power will the solar carports produce?

Estimated annual production is over 15,000 megawatt hours.

How much of MSU's power will come from solar?

Approximately five percent of the electricity used by campus, annually.

Is solar PV expensive?

The cost of solar power has considerably decreased over the past several years while its generation capability has increased. Because of the size capacity and the power that could be generated, the solar PV project is cost efficient in comparison to the expected cost of generating or buying energy produced by fossil fuels over the 25 year life of the contract.

How much will this cost tax-payers?

The solar PV project will reduce operating costs to the university over the period of the contract. It will provide a stable cost of energy over the 25 year contract period.

What is the cost to MSU?

The total cost to MSU, including the investment to connect the solar PV arrays and the contract price for electricity, will be less than what MSU would have spent on its other forms of power generation.

  • The installation of the solar carports is being funded by investors. Investors will be paid over time by MSU purchasing the energy generated by the PV array. The cost of the electricity produced is established through a PPA price to purchase electricity at a fixed rate over a 25 year contract period.
  • The cost to connect the solar PV arrays to the MSU electrical system is estimated to be less than $2.5 million.

Will there be future maintenance costs?

The solar arrays require minimum maintenance. Maintenance will be covered by the PPA partner during the length of the contract.

How will this project impact campus?

  • Designated parking lots will experience reduced availability as a result of temporary, pre-notified vehicle relocation.
  • Once complete, carports will provide vehicles with partial protection from weather.

Will the carports interfere with parking?

No parking places will be eliminated. The structures are designed to have minimal effect on parking space and will provide partially covered parking, reducing the impact of weather on the vehicles under the array.

Where will the solar carports be located?

There are five proposed lot numbers:

  1. Lot 83, located on Service road between Farm Lane and Harrison road.
  2. Lot 89, located at the northwest corner of the Mount Hope highway and Farm Lane intersection.
  3. Lot 91, located at the northwest corner of the Hagadorn road and Service road intersection.
  4. Lot 92, located near the northeast corner of the Service road and Bogue street intersection.
  5. Lot 100, located near the southwest corner of the Hagadorn road and Service road intersection.

What is the timeline?

Building the supports is estimated to begin in March 2017.

  • Once the support structures have been built and the solar panels are installed, the PV arrays will be connected to the MSU electrical system.
  • Planning stages estimate that the installation could produce power as early as summer 2017.
  • Planned target completion for this project is December 2017.

Estimated construction timeline (subject to change):

  • Lot 89: spring 2017-fall 2017
  • Lot 91: spring 2017-fall 2017
  • Lot 83: spring 2017-fall 2017
  • Lot 100: summer 2017-fall 2017
  • Lot 92: summer 2017-fall 2017

Will construction impact football tailgates?

The construction schedule is being coordinated to minimize interference during the 2017-18 football season and home tailgates.

Who can park under the solar carports?

Students, faculty and staff with the appropriate parking permit can park under the solar carports.

What should students, faculty and staff be aware of?

People who use the affected parking lots will need to stay informed about the construction calendar. As construction takes place, there will be reduced availability in the impacted lots. Infrastructure Planning and Facilities (IPF) is coordinating this schedule with the Campus Police Department and the contractors involved. Individuals may be asked to temporarily move their vehicles for construction.

Will MSU parking rates increase?

MSU parking rates will not be increased as a result of the solar carports.

How big will the solar carports be?

The solar carports will cover most of the parking spaces in each parking lot.

  • Tall vehicles: The lowest point of the PV array measures at 14 feet 6 inches. This minimum height is consistent with Michigan and Federal Highway standards; a height which should accommodate most vehicles that would normally use the designated parking lots.

What is the local economic impact?

100 percent of the labor will be locally sourced.

  • 90 percent of the installation and engineering is being sourced from a mid-Michigan company.
  • 10 percent will be sourced from Indiana.

Facility for Rare Isotopte Beams (FRIB) Power

  • The FRIB requires a reliable 18-20 megawatt power source on a limited timeline.
  • A new switch-house provides an interface point for connecting the FRIB, T.B. Simon Power Plant, new substation, the PV arrays and the campus.
  • The switch-house was completed in January 2016. It connects the FRIB to the T.B. Simon Power Plant and provides a connection point for the solar PV systems.

What are the environmental impacts?

  • The solar carports advance the Energy Transition Plan by increasing the amount of renewable energy available to campus and reducing emissions resulting from the burning of fossil fuels to produce power. The arrays also improve the environment by taking the next steps in furthering sustainable energy research and development.
  • Clean fuel extends the life of existing plant equipment.

Will the solar arrays inflict danger to birds?

The solar carports pose no risk to birds or other animals.

  • There are no moving parts that could hit a bird.
  • The surface of the solar cells does not reflect light like a mirror, reducing the element of confusion to a bird.
  • The surface of the array does not emit any more heat than roofs of parked cars.

Where can I find more information?

This page was last updated on March 13, 2017