By Sharon Hanks
Holland-based Louis Padnos Iron & Metal Co.
has invested more than $1 million to install a huge rooftop solar energy system at its recycling facility
in Wyoming, one of the largest such systems in the state.
Consumers Energy officials say that when Padnos commissioned Grand Rapids-based Cascade Renewable Energy,
a division of Cascade Engineering Inc., to set up the system last year, it was the largest of its kind in Michigan.
The solar system covers a 15,000-square-foot area, nearly 15 percent of the huge roof covering the sprawling plant at 500 44th St. SW. The system generates electricity using 636 3-by-5 foot photovoltaic panels. When sun hits the panels, they directly convert the light into a useable form of electricity, according to Mike Ford, business manager for Cascade Renewable Energy.
Underneath it is a 30,000-square-foot white rubber membrane to allow for better heat reflection. The installation became operational Jan. 4 and will be formally dedicated Monday, March 15.
The solar project taps into a program launched by Consumer's Energy last year called Experimental Advanced Renewable Program.
Under the program, Consumer's Energy agrees to purchase the energy produced by the system at a predetermined rate for 12 years. After that time, the power is connected directly to the building's electric meter, allowing Padnos to enjoy significant cost savings and greater energy self-sufficiency.
The unit is expected to last 25 years with a payback of five to seven years, depending on lighting conditions.
"We really see this as a tipping point," Ford says, in advancing Cascade's leadership role in the renewable energy industry. "We have other projects (in negotiations), but the first projects are the toughest."
Last year, the company tackled its first residential solar energy projects with an installation at the Alto home of Fred Keller, Cascade chairman and CEO, and at the Ada home of Ford.
Consumer's Energy just gave the go-ahead for Cascade Engineering's facility in Grand Rapids to undergo its own solar make-over, Ford says.
In a press release, Keller hails the companies' collaboration on the project they began discussing in June, saying it represents "the kind of innovation that can take place between two companies that share a long history of trust. Our partnership goes back to the business Jeff (Padnos)'s father conducted by my father more than 60 years ago."
Jeff Padnos, president of Padnos Iron & Metal, called the project "an exciting expansion of our expertise and environmental commitment, and a path we hope many other businesses will emulate."
The coordination with Consumer's Energy is part of a larger strategy to meet Michigan's recently passed law that requires utilities to generate 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2015. When the law was passed, the utility was getting about 4 percent of its power from renewable sources.
Sources: Mike Ford, business manager for Cascade Renewable Energy, Grand Rapids; Amanda Passage of Lambert, Edwards & Associates, Grand Rapids. Sharon Hanks is innovations and jobs news editor at Rapid Growth Media. Please send story ideas and comments for the column to Sharon at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also is owner of The Write Words in Grand Rapids.