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DNR awards power purchase agreement to Utopian Power to supply clean energy to seven parks, offices in southwest Michigan

Sept. 23, 2021

Request for proposals for northern Michigan DNR facilities coming this fall

In a step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has signed a power purchase agreement with South Lyon-based Utopian Power, LLC to supply almost 1 megawatt of clean energy to seven state parks and offices in southwest Michigan. That's more than 100 times as much power generated through the Oden State Fish Hatchery Visitor Center pilot program.

The agreement covers the installation of solar systems totaling approximately 884 kilowatts, with the first systems (capacity of 300 kW) installed and active throughout fall 2021. The DNR anticipates saving $1.4 million through a discounted utility rate, as the 25-year agreement allows the department to save on utility costs over several locations without the capital investment or ongoing maintenance for the solar arrays.

Individual projects (and expected completion year) for awarded solar installations in the southwest region include:

  • DNR Customer Service Center, Plainwell (2021).
  • Fort Custer Recreation Area, Kalamazoo County - Headquarters building and beach house (2021); east and west campgrounds (2022).
  • Holland State Park, Ottawa County - Lake Macatawa campground (2021) and Holland Beach building (2022).
  • Ionia State Recreation Area, Ionia County - Headquarters building, campgrounds and cabin rentals (2021).
  • Muskegon State Park, Muskegon County - Headquarters building and cold-storage building (2021) and Muskegon Channel campgrounds (2022).
  • P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, Muskegon County - Headquarters building (2021) and campgrounds (2022).
  • Yankee Springs, Barry County - Headquarters building (2021) and campgrounds (2022).

"This agreement is in line with our commitment at the state level to strategically deploy solar power across state-owned land where it makes sense, and to pursue clean energy solutions that protect public health, boost efficiency and make us more effective stewards of our natural environment," said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. "The projects also demonstrate how a move toward renewable energy creates investments in local communities and good-paying jobs. I will work with anyone who wants to put Michiganders first and help usher in a new era of prosperity for our state by building a clean energy economy that works for everyone."

Project impact

The annual production of the installed solar arrays in the southwest region will be enough to power roughly 90 residential homes, or equivalent to reducing 159 passenger vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions or the carbon dioxide emissions from 82,000 gallons of gasoline. Learn more about how the Environmental Protection Agency calculates greenhouse gas equivalencies.

Utopian installed the solar array system at the Oden State Fish Hatchery Visitor Center. DNR Director Dan Eichinger said that system and the arrays planned for the southwest region will help the department demonstrate clean energy in action.

"A lot of people think 'clean energy' sounds like a good thing to do, but maybe haven't seen many examples of what that really looks like or how it works," said Eichinger. "Going forward, visitors of all ages to these state parks and facilities will see firsthand that renewable energy can be easily integrated into everyday operations."

Eichinger said the southwest Michigan project is the latest in line with Whitmer's goal of bringing renewable energy to state-owned facilities and leveraging the power of state-managed lands in climate-friendly ways. Others include:

  • The previously mentioned pilot program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and convert to renewable energy by installing solar panels at the Oden State Fish Hatchery Visitors Center in Emmet County.
  • The development, via a 25-year land lease agreement, of large-scale solar arrays on state forest land at two former mine sites: Groveland Mine in Dickinson County, a former 347-acre iron mine tailings site gifted to the state, and 7 Mile Pit in Crawford County, a 169-acre property previously use for sand and gravel mining.
  • The Bluesource/Michigan DNR Big Wild Forest Carbon Project in the Pigeon River Country State Forest, the first of its kind in the nation, to leverage the carbon storage capacity of trees on state forest lands.
  • A pilot program to mitigate climate change by promoting mass timber construction, an environmentally friendly building technique that allows construction of tall and large buildings using engineered wood. Projects include the DNR's own planned mass timber building in the Upper Peninsula town of Newberry.

The Utopian project will be developed, financed and constructed by Michigan companies with a total investment of $2.5 million into the Michigan economy over the next six months. Utopian is partnering with several companies, including an energy-specific financier based out of metro Detroit and The Green Panel based in Brighton and Grand Rapids.

Utopian Power President Forrest Cohn said the company was founded with the goal of accelerating renewable energy development in communities throughout Michigan and beyond.

"We believe in the impact that clean energy has in maintaining Pure Michigan," Cohn said. "These solar systems will provide economic, environmental and social benefits to our communities and neighbors, and we are proud to lead that effort. We thank the state for the opportunity to provide renewable energy to these DNR state parks and facilities."

Southwest ribbon-cutting, RFP process for northern Michigan

To celebrate the first region completed as part of the DNR's renewable energy efforts, a ribbon-cutting at Holland State Park is slotted for spring 2022 as an opportunity to showcase the installed solar arrays. More information to follow as plans are finalized.

The DNR utilizes a vendor prequalification program to solicit proposals for each region, with requests for proposal published at Vendor response to the bid solicitation for southwest Michigan yielded six vendor proposals. Currently, there are 11 registered, qualified vendors in the system.

The department expects the next RFP, for the northern Michigan region, will be issued this fall, with site visits scheduled in late October. The northern region will contain state parks and DNR field offices estimated at a total of 1 MW of clean energy for all locations.

Those interested in becoming prequalified vendors for future solar power purchase agreements should contact Laura Gyorkos at