2017-11-23 / Front Page

Fruit firm to harvest solar

By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff

SOLAR PANELS at Leelanau Fruit Company will span about six acres. SOLAR PANELS at Leelanau Fruit Company will span about six acres. A Leelanau County cherry processor is in the midst of installing what is likely the largest privately owned solar panel array in northern Michigan.

The Leelanau County Construction Code Authority recently issued a building permit to Leelanau Fruit Company, located just south of Suttons Bay for the installation of a commercial solar array spanning nearly six acres. Jackson-based Harvest Energy Solutions began the $1.6 million project late last month.

“I think it fits well,” said Glenn LaCross, president of Leelanau Fruit. “Our utility bills are huge. In the summer, we can save $50,000 a month. We really have to manage our energy costs to be competitive in the marketplace.

“It’s tough out there.”

LaCross said the Leelanau Fruit plant in Buckley has been using solar energy for about three years.

The new array at the Bingham Township plant is located just north of the plant and visible from M-22.

“We’re quite excited about what it can do for us,” LaCross said.

Tax and other incentives through the United States Department of Agriculture and other organizations just about cut the net cost in half.

Cherryland Electric Cooperative offers a rebate through its “buy-all, sell-all” model, one of three powered by supplier Wolverine Power.

“That buy-all, sell-all program we offer can take up to 10 megawatts, and this is by far the largest project in that program,” said Rachel Johnson, Cherryland member relations manager.

Ken Zebarah, Harvest Energy Solutions territory manager for Michigan and Indiana, said the six-acre array is the largest business-owned solar setup in northern Michigan and quite possibly the state.

Zebarah said the project should be complete in mid-to-late December.

“We’re in about 12 states, and Michigan is our best state for a number of reasons,” Zebarah said. “Particularly in northern Michigan, in places like Traverse City and Leelanau, there is huge advocacy. Several groups are promoting renewable energy and sustainability. It’s a really good area for solar right now.”

Harvest Energy also did a smaller project for Black Star Farms, he said.

Solar energy can be a “home-run investment” in the right scenario, he said. Users need the means to get money for the investment, a sizable tax appetite and ample land in close proximity to a substation. The ground-mounted panels at Leelanau Fruit, for example, are about a stone’s throw from a substation along M-22.

“It’s a needle in the haystack,” Zebarah said. “When I find businesses or individuals who hit all those marks, I pitch it to them.

“It’s a really good investment.”

Johnson said the buy-all, sell-all program was designed to facilitate significant solar investment and growth in the community — and it’s working.

“I think we will see more,” she said.

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Good for Leelanau Fruit

Good for Leelanau Fruit Company. They will save money and it will be good for the environment.