Michigan Oil Spill Company Also Building Largest Solar Plant in North America

photo sarnia solar project enbridge
Credit: First Solar.

Enbridge, the Canadian company behind the recent oil spill in Michigan's Calhoun County near Marshall, just happens to also be behind construction of the largest photovoltaic solar energy facility in North America. Enbridge is working with First Solar to expand the Sarnia Solar Project in Ontario from 20 megawatts to 80 megawatts. When completed in September, the facility is expected to be the largest of its kind in North America, notes a recent dispatch from the Michigan Energy Office. The existing 20-megawatt plant began full commercial operation in December 2009.

This doesn't excuse the company's most recent feat: Spilling more than 800,000 gallons of oil into a creek that runs to the Kalamazoo River, which runs to Lake Michigan. The Michigan oil spill has gained national attention on the heels of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. The spill has been called the worst in Midwest history. There are complaints from Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm that the response from the company (and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) has been lackluster. There are accusations that Enbridge waited as long as 16 hours before reporting the oil spill to authorities, delaying their reponse. Cleaning up the spill will take some time, and may result in new state and federal laws for oil companies to follow.

What of the solar project? Well, the environmentally minded will tell you that we need to break our addiction to fossil fuels, and that includes a move to clean energy sources, like wind and .... solar. Enbridge's involvement with the Sarnia project goes to show that there's an alternative to oil. The comparison isn't exactly apples to apples, but it's fossils versus sun and global warming versus no greenhouse gas emissions. There is public support for green energy generation in the U.S., even if it costs a little more.

In announcing the venture late last year, Enbridge officials pegged the expansion cost at $300 million (Canadian).

Enbridge is a huge company, and has its hands in a lot of pots. Most every energy company is doing something green, while continuing to rely on dirty, old-school sources of energy. Eighty megawatts of solar, after all, is only enough to power 12,800 homes and keep about 39,000 tons of CO2 a year out of the atmosphere. Enbridge operates the world's longest crude oil and liquids transportation system, located in the U.S. and Canada.

According to First Solar, "By continually driving down manufacturing costs, First Solar is delivering an economically viable alternative to fossil-fuel generation today." Fancy that.

Credit: Enbridge Line 6B Response
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