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Partnerships grow solar garden in Cadillac

CADILLAC – Cadillac is going green! The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), the city of Cadillac, and Consumers Energy have partnered to redevelop the blighted, contaminated Mitchell Bentley manufacturing property, a well-known local eyesore, with solar panels that will power city government buildings, businesses, and residences. City manager Marcus Peccia kicked off the project at an October 15 groundbreaking.

The Mitchell Bentley plant burned in a 2013 fire, leaving 9,000 cubic yards of debris contaminated with asbestos. The property is also contaminated with PCE, a solvent used in Mitchell Bentley’s auto parts manufacturing processes.

When Mitchell Bentley went out of business in the late 1980s, the Cadillac facility had already closed. The company stopped paying property taxes and the city of Cadillac became the site’s owner.

Brian Warner, environmental manager for Wolverine Power, recognized the site’s potential for solar power generation and wanted to see it redeveloped. Wolverine, a local energy supplier, was an early, instrumental partner. Brian coordinated with the city and Consumers Energy to develop site reuse ideas, including a solar garden.

Contamination and charred debris were the biggest development impediments. The city of Cadillac had worked with EGLE on other successful brownfield projects and invited EGLE staff to join the development team. While the partners were exploring redevelopment options, EGLE awarded the city a small grant to find out how contaminated the site really was, and how much it would cost to make it safe for reuse. Once project details were finalized, the city applied for, and was awarded, a $700,000 brownfield grant and a $300,000 brownfield loan to revitalize and safely reuse the Mitchell Bentley property. The city will use the brownfield grant and loan to remove the debris and demolish the remaining buildings. Contaminated soil and burned debris containing asbestos will be removed and properly disposed of in a landfill.

Consumers Energy calls its large fields of solar panels “solar gardens.” The solar garden at Mitchell Bentley will cover four acres and the energy generated there will keep the lights on at city hall, other city-owned buildings, and more. A solar garden of this size can power 100 houses. The solar-generated power will be available to any Consumers Energy customer for a small additional cost. Businesses in the adjacent industrial park are potential users. Consumers Energy hopes to have the panels in place and operating before summer 2020.

Consumers Energy will invest $700,000 in the old Mitchell Bentley site. The city will sell the balance of the 11-acre property once it’s ready for reuse. There’s room to grow in Cadillac’s solar garden!

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