Former Mining Sites in Northern Michigan to Become Solar Farms

Two former mine sites will be transformed into solar arrays through an agreement with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and a Royal Oak-based company.
solar array
Former mines in northern Michigan are going to be transformed into solar arrays following an agreement between the Michigan DNR and Circle Power. // Stock photo

Two former mine sites will be transformed into solar arrays through an agreement with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and a Royal Oak-based company.

Circle Power has been awarded a five-year land lease agreement with the department to develop the large-scale arrays.

“Enabling opportunities for cost-effective, renewable energy is good for the environment, for Michigan’s beautiful outdoor spaces, and for the people of Michigan,” says Dan Eichinger, director of the Michigan DNR.

“Our department is entrusted with taking the best possible care of the state’s natural resources and creating quality outdoor experiences. It is just as important that we do our part to foster the development of renewable energy sources that will provide new sources of power for northern Michigan, increase local tax bases, and repurpose old mining sites for greater public benefit.”

The sites to be developed include the Groveland Mine in Dickinson County (in the Upper Peninsula southwest of Marquette and on the Wisconsin border), a former 347-acre iron mine tailings site gifted to the state, and 7 Mile Pit in Crawford County (includes Grayling in the northern Lower Peninsula), a 169-acre property previously used for sand and gravel mining the state acquired through tax reversion.

The projects will be developed through Copper County Power I, Circle Power’s affiliate. Circle Power is backed by Amber Infrastructure and its U.S. parent, Hunt Cos. Inc.

“We look forward to working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on the 7 Mile Pit and Groveland Mine projects,” says Jordan Roberts, managing partner at Circle Power. “This is an important opportunity to provide low-cost power to Michigan residents while supporting the state’s renewable energy goals.”

A construction start date and expected project duration are not yet known. Both sites are located on land left in a degraded condition.

Criteria for establishing solar farms include open land with minimal forest cover, no conflicts with rare, threatened, or endangered species or sensitive ecosystems, and consistency with local zoning plans and ordinances.

The Michigan DNR put out a request for proposals in June. Utopian Power of South Lyon and Telamon Enterprise Ventures of Indiana responded in addition to Copper Country Power I.

“An installed project could provide $50,000-$100,000 per year in lease payments to the DNR in addition to generating state and local revenue through property taxes,” Roberts says.

Michigan Energy Options, an East Lansing nonprofit under contract with the DNR, worked on evaluating the proposal. The firm has assisted the DNR with the technical aspects of understanding solar energy.

“The potential development of two former mining sites for large-scale solar power, in my opinion, checks all the boxes,” says John A. Kinch, executive director of Michigan Energy Options. “The siting doesn’t negatively affect the natural lands and waters the DNR manages and, further, it is a great reuse of industrial legacy properties. It doesn’t affect private landholdings. What the project does do is to drive the creation of more clean, renewable energy in Michigan, with the DNR leading by example. My nonprofit is excited to be working on these and future projects with the DNR.”