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