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April 17, 2013

Council to DTE: ‘Marquee’ solar panel project is a no-go on I-75

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

Responding to residents’ concerns, the Troy City Council said no to a DTE Energy solar panel project that developers described as “marquee.”

At the April 8 meeting, the council, by consensus, told GenPoint Energy and Inovateus Solar representatives, who approached the city to identify potential sites to install solar panels for DTE’s Solar Currents program, that it was no-go for the parcel on 4 acres of city land along northbound I-75, south of Long Lake. The city acquired the land several years ago for an off ramp from northbound I-75 that was never built. The Michigan Department of Transportation scrapped plans for the ramp in the latest transportation plan for southeast Michigan. 

The council had voted 6-1 March 4 to have city officials draft a 20-year lease agreement for later consideration, which DTE hoped to secure by April 17. DTE would have leased the land for approximately $30,000 per year. Councilman Doug Tietz opposed the measure, saying there were too few details. He was absent from the April 8 meeting.

DTE would have covered all construction and maintenance costs, and would have owned the solar panel equipment, 3 feet in height, that would have been mounted on the ground and enclosed by fencing. At the end of the lease period, DTE would have been responsible for removal of the panels and restoration of the site.

“We understand the neighbors expressed opposition,” Joshua Yaker, of GenPoint, told the council. “We believe proper signage and engineering will mitigate these issues. It’s a unique opportunity for Troy to give the city a financial boost, be a technology leader and chance to become home to a marquee project.”

Art Mohr, of GenPoint, told the council that, out of 85 prospective sites for the solar project, seven cites, including Troy, made the short list of seven. He could not say which sites DTE will choose from the seven.

He added that the Troy project would have been the largest solar project in Michigan, which would produce practically no sound and have little visual impact.

Twenty-nine residents who live near the site attended a neighborhood meeting with representatives from GenPoint March 27. Members of the homeowner’s association sent Troy council members a dozen emails representing the association at large, stating their opposition to the plan. 

Jeff Smith, of Professional Engineering Associates, said residents’ concerns centered on four areas: noise, visibility, disruption of woodlands and wetlands, and viability.

“There are no significant concerns we can’t work through the site plan process,” Smith said. “Clearing the brush won’t impact the noise. The trees are scattered and not an effective buffer for noise. On the first floor of any house in the neighborhood, you won’t see it.”

He added that, in “maybe a few” homes, on the second story, residents would be able to see a partial view of the panels.

City Manager Brian Kischnick told the council that the developers approached the council with the plan first, rather than the Planning Commission.

“There was no need to go to the Planning Commission without affirmation from the City Council to consider it,” Kischnick said.

“I have concerns about how quick this has to happen,” Mayor Dane Slater said. “I will not want to go forward if residents are opposed. I am for solar power. I wish you could find another spot in Troy.”

The developers said that no other area in the city was under consideration for the project.

“This is a site that DTE loves,” Yaker said. The four-acre parcel lies within about 23 acres that includes a wooded area.

“The potential impact to property in the area is unclear,” Councilman Dave Henderson said. “I’m not sure the (public relations) is worth the gamble.”

“We remain in opposition,” said Kevin Ball, of the Carleton Park Homeowner’s Association. He said residents were concerned about an impact on the value of their homes, if the solar panels were installed adjacent to their neighborhood.

“There are simply too many open questions,” Ball said.

“The council’s response was very gratifying,” he said. He noted that the homeowners opposed the freeway off ramp that was under consideration for construction on the site in 2004, which the council ultimately voted to leave as undeveloped parkland.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.