Solar power focus: Virtual event featured speakers with renewable energy experience

MARQUETTE — The Upper Peninsula Clean Energy Conference series held a virtual event hosted by Michigan Energy Options on Thursday afternoon with a focus on solar power.

Thursday’s session, titled “Solar Energy Case Studies — Lessons from On the Ground Projects,” offered discussions with leaders of solar and wind projects of different scales in L’Anse, Marquette and downstate Gratiot County.

Moderating the event’s three sessions were Michael Larson, U.P. operations manager for Michigan Energy Options; Richelle Winkler, professor of sociology and demography at Michigan Tech University; and John Kinch, executive director of Michigan Energy Options.

The sessions involved moderated discussions with people who have developed renewable energy projects ranging from small-business solar projects, community-scale solar and wind projects, and utility-scale solar and wind projects.

Speaking in the small business solar session were Tom Vear and Jenn Ray, owners of Donckers and The Delft Bistro in downtown Marquette. The duo installed solar panels on the rooftop of Donckers in the summer of 2018 with the support of a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program.

Asked by Larson how long solar energy had been in the works for Ray and Vear, Vear said it’s something they had considered for a long time.

“We’ve thought about solar for many years,” Vear said during the Zoom conference. “Donckers and The Delft have nice, exposed roofs, so we thought it would be very beneficial to have a solar field. It was the right thing to do at the right time. In 2018, Peninsula Solar set us up and we built a field on top of the building.”

Ray reiterated those comments.

“The initial reason was because the numbers made sense at that point,” she said. “There’s definitely a cost to it initially, but once that cost made sense, we thought it was time to plan it out and do it. Another reason we went for it was just trying to incorporate how we do business and having environmental and ecological solutions. It’s been an intricate part of our business as far as the to-go products we use or packaging we’re trying to change as far as product in-house. That’s always been a fabric of our businesses and a philosophical way of living and moving forward.

“It was a driving force, the timing worked and the numbers were starting to finally make sense.”

Vear said the project cost roughly $70,000, with $11,500 of that coming from the USDA grant and a 30% tax credit. He added that the net cost was $40,000 with an expected nine-year payoff, and the solar panels cover about one-third of their electric bills between Donckers and The Delft.

Vear told viewers that if they have the opportunity to invest in solar energy, he wants them to know it’s well worth it.

“It’s really simple,” he said. “It’s a good thing to do if you can do it. That’s really important. It’s cost effective if it’s done right, and it even looks sort of cool when you go up there. We believe it’s the right thing to do going forward, and we’ve got to get our consumption down.”

In the “community solar” session, L’Anse Village Manager Robert LaFave discussed with Winkler the 340-panel project installed in 2019.

Kinch proceeded to discuss the Gratiot County wind project with Marquette-based attorney and founder of Mackinaw Power, Rich Vander Veen, and Don Schuff, founder of Greater Gratiot Development Inc. in the final session of the day.

Over 60 people attended the virtual event, and had the opportunity to ask questions to each panelist and moderator via a chat feature.

The next webinar in the U.P. Clean Energy Conference Series is set for 3 p.m. Feb. 12 and will discuss the topic of U.P. propane delivery without Line 5.

To register for the session or find out more information, visit www.upcleanenergy.org.

For more information on Michigan Energy Options, visit www.michiganenergyoptions.org.

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.


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