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Posted on Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 11:56 a.m.

University of Michigan discussing possible North Campus solar energy installation with DTE Energy

By Juliana Keeping


The University of Michigan and DTE are in talks for a solar installation on the former Pfizer site now owned by the school, a DTE spokesperson said. files

The University of Michigan is discussing a deal with DTE Energy to build a ground-level solar panel installation on its North Campus in Ann Arbor, a school official said.

The project could materialize within the next six months, said Terry Alexander, director of U-M's office of campus sustainability.

A DTE official said Wednesday that the former Pfizer campus, which U-M acquired and renamed North Campus Research Complex, is being eyed for an installation. But the DTE spokesman declined to provide further details. He said talks have been ongoing with U-M for about a year.

DTE is running a pilot program in which it builds, owns and maintains large solar panels on suitable southeast Michigan properties, and then pays the property owner for the energy it generates.

It's part of the utility's efforts to meet Michigan's Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires that utilities derive 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

It was not immediately clear how large the installation would be or where it would be located. The former Pfizer site has a 29-acre swath of empty land fronting Plymouth Road.

The news comes after Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center launched a campaign last week to lobby U-M to install solar panels at Michigan Stadium. It would be a symbolic gesture and eliminate hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide a year from the atmosphere, according to Ecology Center's Ann Arbor 350 campaign.

But the university is focusing its solar energy plans on North Campus, Alexander said.

“If you stay tuned, you’ll be quite pleased by the solar installation," Alexander said.

U-M says the idea for panels on the Big House doesn’t make financial sense. And there aren’t many places to put the panels on the roof. Due to safety regulations and equipment on the roof, the tops of two new towers completed as part of a renovation in 2010 are the only suitable spots for panels.

Alexander said feasibility studies show that solar panels at Michigan Stadium would take more than 70 years to recoup costs.

Monica Patel, a policy specialist at the Ecology Center, said the campaign for Big House panels has about 300 signatures so far.

The Ecology Center was unaware of U-M's discussions with DTE, an official said.

Recent participants in DTE's solar subsidies program include a 264,000-square foot solar field project at the General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck Chevrolet Volt Assembly Plant.

While U-M would prefer to build an installation at North Campus, Alexander said solar panels on the Big House might still might be possible if a donor were to step up to fund the project.

Juliana Keeping covers general assignment and health and the environment for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter



Fri, Aug 26, 2011 : 3:30 a.m.

Why? They have their own power plant. Are those useless solar panels going to make the earth colder? ....nobody knows how to waste more money faster the UM. ....and when are the next round of tuition increases expected?

Seasoned Cit

Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 9:36 p.m.

Why is anyone worried about the Stadium or Pfizer? ... we can put em up and all feel good that we're helping to solve a politically generated "problem"of too much CO2 that we all exhale. Just like Social Security.. It'll be our grandkids that have to figure out how to pay for all the things we are buying on credit ! All Hail the legislature that is saving us from our horrible life style. Why not also put generators on all the turnstiles at the stadium... going in and then install them also at the rest rooms.. Think of the power we could generate.


Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 3:24 p.m.

At this time, the cost of generating electricity using solar photovoltaic panels has a long payback and is not cost effective. However, DTE is required by the state of Michigan to provide a certain percentage of its power generating capacity through alternative energy sources at the expense of DTE customers. Same thing applies to all utilities in Michigan and almost all other states. My hope is that these sources of alternative energy generating is done in the most cost effective manner. Things such as solar hot water panels (much more cost effective than PV panels), wind turbines at locations by the Great Lakes shoreline where there is sufficient wind to make sense, (Washtenaw County does not have adequate winds for cost effective wind power) and requiring or rewarding conservation by utilities, businesses and citizens. There is a tremendous amount of non renewable energy being wasted. Just walk around downtown Ann Arbor streets on a hot ozone action day and feel the cold air blasting out of business establishments when they prop open their front entry doors, unnecessarily. Same with all the outdoor lighting on during daylight hours that has no usefulness to anyone, but only wastes energy and causes pollution. By caring, we all help the environment without it costing a penny extra.


Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 4:03 a.m.

Will this installation be as "cost effective" as the "Big House" solar proposal that will cost 3 times as much as conventional power over the life of the system? Oh hell, it's taxpayer dollars and we make a statement. No need to worry about a cost/benefit analysis. Don't forget to turn the lights out when the last person leaves the state. Meanwhile Stadium Bridge is falling down due to the heavy traffic of game days, and county commissioners are going to increase property taxes without a vote for "road repair". Just another reason to implement a city income tax so the U of M can pay their share through the 44,000 employees draining our city revenues.


Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 10:31 a.m.

Did you read the article? DTE is running a pilot program in which it builds, owns and maintains large solar panels on suitable southeast Michigan properties, and then pays the property owner for the energy it generates. No taxpayer dollars, just DTE customer dollars.


Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 7:26 p.m.

Wouldn't it make more sense to put the panels on top of the old Pfizer buildings, like Google does at their HQ? <a href=",+Mountain+View,+CA&hl=en&ll=37.420825,-122.083538&spn=0.005844,0.005906&sll=42.292579,-83.732742&sspn=0.015396,0.01545&vpsrc=6&t=h&z=18" rel='nofollow'>,+Mountain+View,+CA&amp;hl=en&amp;ll=37.420825,-122.083538&amp;spn=0.005844,0.005906&amp;sll=42.292579,-83.732742&amp;sspn=0.015396,0.01545&amp;vpsrc=6&amp;t=h&amp;z=18</a> Another plus for solar: most of the power would be used on-site, saving significant long-distance transmission capacity and line loss waste. Grid-tied systems for large electricity users who have large flat roofs are interesting. The Google Map view of the Pfizer complex shows a lot of potential.

Mike K

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 5:46 p.m.

Be sure to specify Michigan based materials!!! The plastic used to mold the juction boxes and connectors can come from a Michigan based company and the adhesives used to assemble the panel can as well. That's just what I know about.


Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 5:15 p.m.

Why not stop having football games at the BIG HOUSE rather than half way measures like solar panels? Just think, 110,000 people on Eight Saturdays a year not exhaling CO2 from the BIG HOUSE No Cars polluting the air, etc, etc!!!


Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 5:20 p.m.

Because those people wouldn't be breathing out CO2 if they weren't at a football game right? The cars I can't argue with however.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 4:26 p.m.

&quot;Alexander said feasibility studies show that solar panels at Michigan Stadium would take more than 70 years to recoup costs.&quot; How long to break even at the proposed ground level North campus site?

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 2:41 p.m.

maybe they should install 110,000 stationary bikes wired to generate electricity in the stands instead of seats.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 2:38 p.m.

there is still a break even point hypothetical or real. DTE doesn't print money. They generate and sell electricity. The cost to build it has a theoretical break even based on electricity generated and sold at market rates by the solar panels..


Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 10:27 a.m.

DTE pays for it...


Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 4:18 p.m.

Congratulations U of M. Monroe County Community College already has a field of solar panels in partnership with DTE. I believe they installed it last year......U of M- the cutting edge of green technology again! LOL!