The co-op will be one of a handful of businesses to participate in Michigan utility company Consumers Energy’s Experimental Advanced Renewables Program.
Consumers provides electricity to about 60 percent of Michigan households and businesses.
Through the experimental program, the utility will buy solar power from the co-op and so will the co-op's customers. That means the co-op gets double for the solar energy it produces, said Rachel Adams, business manager for the co-op.
The program made solar an easy choice for the co-op, Adams said. But it’s something administrators were considering anyway.
She said the co-op has been surveying customers and getting feedback over the last year.
“We found that our customers are really concerned with sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint,” Adams said.
That makes solar energy a natural fit for the East Lansing Food Co-Op. Adams said co-op customers who buy sustainable and locally-grown food are extremely likely to buy sustainable and locally-produced power as well.
When administrators started thinking about solar, they weren’t sure if it would work.
“We just though, wouldn’t it be cool if we could do it,” Adams said.
The project has come together quickly. They applied to the experimental program and were accepted and have until the end of 2013 to install the solar array.
“But we hope to finish it well-before that deadline,” Adams said.
She expects the installation to be finished in the first quarter of 2013.
The 4-kilowatt system will produce about half the energy the facility uses, Adams said. Of course, that doesn’t matter to the co-op because it will still be buying power regularly from the utility and will continue to get a bill as if it weren’t producing any electricity. The buy-back system is different from a net-metering program and payments for the power will be separate from the co-op’s own energy bill.