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Posted on Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.

Former Ypsilanti landfill could be site of $4M DTE Energy solar project

By Katrease Stafford

A closed landfill in Ypsilanti may be the development site of a future $4 million solar array project that would produce alternative energy for DTE Energy.


The solar array would encompass 4.5 acres of the 7-acre property.

Courtesy City of Ypsilanti

The City of Ypsilanti received a letter of intent from SunDurance Energy, a company that develops, designs, builds and operates megawatt-scale solar power solutions for commercial, industrial, federal government and utility-scale markets.

The company is seeking to install a 1.3 megawatt solar array.

The proposed project would cover about 4.5 acres of the 7-acre property near Spring Street and just north of the westbound Interstate 94 Huron Street exit.

The city would lease the property to the company for $9,778 per acre, or $44,000 a year. A one-time construction payment of $20,000 must be made within 30 days of the execution of the lease.

A large digital billboard is currently on the property and the city receives $35,000 per year for that lease.

The amount of investment in solar panels and related equipment is expected to be about $4 million. The letter of intent requires the developer to pay for any related environmental or geotechnical assessments required as part of the development, as well.

Since the possible site is a former landfill, certain protocol may be needed to take place before the land could be used. City Planner Teresa Gillotti said the city has only started to do preliminary investigations of the land.

The city purchased the landfill prior to 1949 and it was closed between 1957 and 1967. City records show the closure did not include a formal sealing or capping of the landfill and the property is known to have environmental contamination, but it is not known to what extent.

Initial testing was undertaken by the Traverse Group, now known as TEI Environmental Solutions, in 1998, but it did not include a formal environmental assessment. The Washtenaw County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority has requested on behalf of the city, assessment grant funds for a phase one environmental assessment which recently commenced.

Additional grant funds for phase two will be available through the Downriver Community Conference as well.

Initial conversations with Michigan Department of Environmental Quality staff indicate that the development of a solar array may be a feasible use of the landfill, as it may not require in disruption or release of any contaminants on the site. However, DEQ staff did indicate that with older landfills, geotechnical issues may be a concern, as any substantial weight may result in shifting.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for CornerBrew3.jpg

Corner Brewery invested more than $1 million in its energy and expansion project this year.

SunDurance became interested in the Ypsilanti area after DTE announced a request for proposals for the development of a megawatt, or more, solar array that will produce energy for its existing energy grid.

DTE Energy Representative John Austerberry said all of the energy generated at the site would go "onto the grid" and not to a direct customer. In the instance of a location like the one in Ypsilanti, it would be set up where all of the power just goes straight to the grid.

"When renewables are generating, we run less fossil fuel," Austerberry said. "Whether it be coal or natural gas, it all goes on the grid and goes to where it's needed."

Soon after DTE’s initial announcement, several companies began seeking out developable land in highly visible locations, including highway frontage. One company contacted the city directly, while another was brought to the city once the knowledge that the former landfill site might be available for a project of this nature.


The former Visteon parking lot was looked at as a possible location for the solar project.

File photo

In addition to the landfill, the parking lot next to the old Visteon plant was considered. Last year, Angstrom USA purchased the plant from Ford-controlled Automotive Components Holdings in 2009 for $2 million.

City staff worked with both developers to move toward an option or letter of intent that city council could approve.

Gillotti said the city narrowed it down to SunDurance. The company has prior experience in working on landfill sites and provided a better financial offer to the city for the area.

The DTE proposal process has two phases. The first evaluates the sites and initial costs, while the second allows for DTE to focus on a select group of applicants to provide more detailed plans and background on the sites, while they review qualifications and other factors before making a decision.

If this project is chosen by DTE, the company will build it and turn it over to DTE, who would then own the equipment. According to the letter of intent, SunDurance will be responsible for all costs and the performance of all work related to the design and construction of the system. DTE will be responsible for all operation, monitoring and maintenance costs.

The project would require a 20-year lease between the city and DTE with the potential to extend for 10 or more additional years.

Phase one proposals are due by Dec. 21 and DTE will notify its "short list" of possible sites they are moving forward on Jan. 18. DTE would decide soon after, and the targeted construction and completion date is Dec. 31, 2013.

Before construction can take place, city council would have to approve the long-term lease and the project would also go before the planning commission, which would then make a recommendation to city council for a public hearing and approval.

City council will consider the letter of intent at its Tuesday meeting.

Gillotti said there have been proposals in the past for this property that did not materialize. However, Gillotti said this project is exciting for the city because if approved, it would put the underutilized property back into use.

Gillotti said the Ypsilanti community has shown its support for alternative energy, citing the many solar projects done recently such as the $1 million expansion and solar project at Corner Brewery.

"There's a lot of interest in that and it would be a good representation of the city, since we're moving toward that direction," Gillotti said. "It will be really positive... It could become a landmark (for Ypsilanti.)

Mayor Paul Schreiber said while he would like to know more details before he can fully back the project, it has his early support.

"Teresa Gillotti did a good job in the request for legislation where we have a landfill which is contaminated land," Schreiber said. "We need to find revenue sources. This looks like a revenue source and it’s a green revenue source. I think it's a good idea... It's very intriguing and I would be leaning in favor."

View Proposed solar array in a larger map

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for her at or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.



Tue, Dec 4, 2012 : 2:48 p.m.

Hmmm, I wonder what Ann Arbor could do with all their vacant land? The 1st year of output will cost DTE $1.42 versus sale price $0.14 per kiloWatt-hour. Let's say yearly output is 1.3 MW x 6 hours/day x 365 days, about 2847MW-hours per year. Project costs 4 million plus 44k rent per year so first year energy cost is $4.044M / 2847MW-h = $1.42 per kiloWatt-hour After ten years the kW-h energy cost is $0.156 15 year average kW-h energy cost drops to $0.109 Only because bigoil folk say energy prices will not go up (ha ha ha ha) DTE will have to wait up to 15 years before profit returns. As the sun shines, though, a profit will return. You Go DTE !!!

average joe

Tue, Dec 4, 2012 : 11:46 a.m.

"Soon after DTE's initial announcement, several companies began seeking out developable land in highly visible locations, including highway frontage." Just curious- Why 'highly visible locations, including highway frontage'? Is this a requirement of the federal government to somehow 'promote' solar power? One would think that these 'solar arrays' would be put on land that is away from the highway that generally, although perhaps not in this particular case, are not as valuble.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 5:21 p.m.

Better security, for one. In plain sight, near well traveled roadways means less vandalism. Just think of all that metal begging to be scrapped...


Tue, Dec 4, 2012 : 3:26 p.m.

Maybe there are less considerations of shadows, etc. from buildings and other, taller structures along highway frontage. Solar panels need unobstructed daylight for as long as the sun is up. Maybe the more wide-open nature of highway frontage is more conducive to the use.


Tue, Dec 4, 2012 : 12:31 p.m.

I imagine it has nothing at all to do with government and everything to do with a green (er) corporate image for DTE.

Ben Petiprin

Tue, Dec 4, 2012 : 3:24 a.m.

At first, it sounded like a lot of manufacturing jobs were coming back. On second read through, that no longer seems to be the case. Solar panels are still marginally cool though.


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 11:26 p.m.

Great news! Better then sitting there doing not much of anything. Now, lets boycott Family Dollar and get a Target or something in there.

Dave H

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 10:29 p.m.

Sure does sound interesting! Add to this the proposed County Rec Center on Water Street and things look a little brighter in Ypsilanti. Whoops, forgot, there is that step backwards with proposed Family Dollar on Water Street. Need more of the former and much less of the latter!


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 9:12 p.m.

I remember a real bad multiple car accident due to the dump back in the early 60's. It was due to burning trash. Wind shifted and covered I-94 in heavy smoke. Doesn't seem that long ago for some reason.

Karen Hart

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 9:06 p.m.

Outstanding. Sounds like a great use for this property.


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 8:49 p.m.

Sounds like a good start for negotiations, But currently the city gets $35,000 yearly for renting the space for a billboard, but the solar company will only pay $44,000 yearly for 4.5 acres? Ypsi is getting ripped off. Just one more billboard space rented out on the property would come close to doubling the rent that SunDurance Energy is paying. To be fiscally responsible, the city needs to charge more for rent.


Tue, Dec 4, 2012 : 2:47 p.m.

My understanding is that the solar field would be IN ADDITION TO the billboard, not replacing it -- in the image, it looks like the billboard is still there, to the lower right of the solar array. (That oddly shaped hashed area might be its shadow?) So the city would in face be doubling their revenue here. Additionally, there's a minimum distance you can put between billboards, under the State permitting system, and I don't think another one of those could be fit on the property. So this seems like a win to me, financially, especially considering the difficulty of building any kind of structure on a landfill site.


Tue, Dec 4, 2012 : 2:58 a.m.

If the market will not bear, or the city is not allowed to put up another billboard it means your analysis is FLAWED. Did you read where this is 4.5 acres of a SEVEN acre parcel Maybe they could do both? Here is another items to think about. The cost to the city for the 7 acres is the same regardless of what is there. Would you rather have $44k or $35k? If you choose the $35k, I'll gladly make that trade with you all day long. i will pay you $35k and you can give me back $44k.

Linda Peck

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 8:49 p.m.

Solar! Clean Energy! Hooray!


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 8:39 p.m.

1.3 megawatts is the same as the power output of one P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft, for $4 million? Just sayin....


Tue, Dec 4, 2012 : 3:09 a.m.

Sorry Ed.....I actually thought about that after my post.BUT one can not edit their comments.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 11:56 p.m.

@tdw: rest of the message was not for you. It was to point out the silliness of his comparison. Of course, I didn't expect that a certain subsest of commenters would appreciate the factual statement and the accompanying analysis. GN&GL


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 11:48 p.m.

Ok Ed......I was just curious.After the link,the rest of your reply was nothing but white noise


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 11:47 p.m.

Just sayin' what? an ordinary diesel generator would be cheaper to buy too, but then you've got fuel cost, and much higher maintenance cost, and the environmental impacts of the exhaust, and the fuel production. The solar plant will run when ever the sun is in the sky, rain or shine, for years. Can an internal combustion generator match that lifespan? How do the environmental impacts of solar panel production compare to generator manufacture and fuel? What if we ran the generator on biodiesel?

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 11 p.m.

He looked it up on Wikipedia A P51 cost $51,000 in 1943. Adjusted for inflation = $700,000 today Of course, the P51 produced its power by burning carbon based fuel, was wildly inefficient, and produced that power only so long as it had fuel in its tanks. The solar field burns no fuel, creates no pollution aside from that in the production process, is incredibly efficient, and produces electricity so long as the sun shines. Talk about apples and moon rocks


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 9:51 p.m.

nekm1....don't take this as a negative comment cuz it's not.How did you figure that out ? horse power ?


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 8:38 p.m.

Oh, and Katrease, thanks for your hard work pumping out great, informative articles about all things local to Ypsi. We appreciate it!


Tue, Dec 4, 2012 : 2:24 p.m.

A belated thanks from me too, Katrease. Nice, Ross.

Katrease Stafford

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 8:41 p.m.

Thanks, Ross!


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 8:37 p.m.

A 1.3 MW, 4.5 acre solar array is pretty impressive. Let's do it.


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 8:02 p.m.

What an informative piece, thank you!

Ben Petiprin

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 7:57 p.m.

Sweet! First attempt at real development. Ypsilanti is an industrial town, let's get back to BUILDING things. I'm applying now.


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 9:48 p.m.

Ben...for some reason your reply got me chuckling

Ben Petiprin

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 9:29 p.m.

Dunno. Factory job. Whatever they'll give me.


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 8:35 p.m.

applying for what?