Michigan State Begins Solar Carport Project

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Construction on a new solar project at Michigan State University (MSU) began earlier this month, advancing the institution’s Energy Transition Plan to move the campus toward 100 percent renewable energy use.

The project includes using carport builders to install solar carports at five different lots across the campus. The carports are projected to produce more than 15,000 megawatt hours of power per year or about 5 percent of the campus’ annual electricity usage, according to the project website. This could mean a savings of $10 million over the next 25 years, helping keep tuition costs down.

“The obvious advantage of this project for our students, faculty and staff is cleaner air due to the emissions-free generation of electricity,” Wolfgang Bauer, a University Distinguished Professor in physics who is assisting with the project, told MSU Today. “However, there are significant other benefits such as reducing the university’s utility costs over time. This, in the end, will have a direct effect on keeping tuition rates as low as possible.”

The structures will cover most of the parking spaces in each lot and will help provide cars with protection from direct sunlight and overheating in the summertime as well as from snowfall in the winter. No existing parking spaces will be eliminated as part of the project.

MSU Board of Trustees members approved a power purchase agreement for the project in September 2015, according to the project website. That agreement is being developed and will be owned by South Bend, Ind.-based Inovateus Solar LLC and Vancouver-based Alterra Power Co. The partnership will allow the university to buy the electricity produced from the solar arrays at a 25-year fixed price.

While MSU will cover the cost (less than $2.5 million) of connecting the solar arrays to the university’s power grid, all other construction and maintenance costs (about $20 million) will be paid for by the investor companies. The solar project is scheduled for completion by December 2017, but the installation could begin producing power as early as this summer.