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Posted on Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 5:56 a.m.

Energized: ArborMotion becomes site of largest private solar panel project in Washtenaw County

By Janet Miller


ArborMotion general manager and owner James Snider, left, and parts and finance manager Benjamin Meza stand on the roof of the State Circle facility, where they have recently installed solar panels.

Angela J. Cesere |

ArborMotion, the umbrella for six car care companies that include longtime Swedish Engineering, last week became the site of the area’s largest privately owned system of solar panels in Washtenaw County.

The 32-kilowatt rooftop solar panel system, which includes 124 U.S.-made panels, went live Wednesday and is expected to reduce ArborMotion’s energy costs at its 23,000-square-foot facility on State Circle by between 50 percent to 75 percent. Only DTE’s Energy’s solar panel installation on Scio Church and Wagner roads is larger. That is a 60 kilowatt system, but it is not privately owned.

While investing in the $178,400 solar panel system seemed frightening at first, the risk diminished as he learned more, said James Snider, an owner and the general manager of ArborMotion.

“A lot of it was an education process. I liked the concept, but I wasn’t familiar with how it worked. I had to understand the risk involved for the business. I wanted to make sure there was a high degree of likelihood it would function the way they said it would.”

Incentive programs from DTE, along with federal grants, made the project not only financially possible but it is ultimately expected to become profitable, Snider said.


The 32-kilowatt rooftop solar panel system is expected to reduce ArborMotion’s energy costs at its 23,000-square-foot facility on State Circle by between 50 percent to 75 percent.

Angela J. Cesere |

DTE’s $25 million Solar Currents incentive program, plus a federal grant covered two-thirds of the costs once the system went operational. A bank loan covered the rest.

The money saved from reduced energy costs will cover the bank loan and, at the same time, DTE will be making monthly credits to ArborMotion, called renewable energy credits (RECs). Once the loan is paid off in less than six years, Snider said, the REC payments will continue.

The RECs will be paid for a total of 20 years, said Dave Friedrichs, managing member of Homeland Builders Group, the Ann Arbor-based company that was general contractor for the project. The RECs help move DTE closer to the state Legislature requirement that DTE produce at least 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015, Friedrichs said. “It’s the best incentive program in the country.”

The solar panels are expected to contribute close to 37,000 kilowatt hours of power to the service center’s load annually.

Homeland Builders have installed about a half-dozen commercial solar panel systems in Ann Arbor, including at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church on Ann Arbor-Saline Road and at the downtown offices of a law office.

While Friedrichs called the incentive offer, which has now expired, a “no brainer,” Snider said he wasn’t sure at first. “There was the risk of the unknown. This is something I’d never done before,” he said. “Then I said ‘Solar panels in Michigan? Does that really work?” I found out even with cloud cover, solar comes through,” Snider said.

Homeland Builders Group began construction of the system in December, Friedrichs, said. The system covers about 6,000 square feet of the roof.

While solar incentives have expired, at least for now, they are being more affordable on their own, Friedrichs said. The price of crystalline silicon, used to make the panels, continues to fall, he said.

The solar panel installation fits in with the ArborMotion’s brand, Snider said. ArborMotion includes six divisions, including a detailing shop, Asian import car repair and Rennstatt Racing. The company has pursued other green initiatives, including a hybrid shuttle service and installation of a heating system almost entirely fueled by waste motor oil.

“I absolutely believe in protecting the environment we live in, but I’m not in favor of how people use it as a marketing gimmick,” he said. “We use it more as a retention strategy to make us sustainable. Our customers, for instance, appreciate knowing their oil isn’t going to the landfill. These things are important to my customers.”


E. Daniel Ayres

Tue, Apr 10, 2012 : 3:05 p.m.

How many installations like this one will it take to support a single "solar panel washer" who may be needed during the 25 year half-life of the panels to keep them operating at optimum efficiency? Any research?


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 2:57 a.m.

The money to subsidize this comes from somewhere..........any guesses? My guess is your energy bills and your tax dollars..........feasibility study complete. Time to subsidize another Solyndra or Chevy Volt.............

John Q

Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 4:12 a.m.

You must have missed the recent report showing that it's cheaper for DTE to get power from new wind turbines than a new coal plant.


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 3:12 a.m.

DTE is guaranteed by contract an 11% profit whether our power is generated by economical coal or absurd boutique frauds like solar and wind or rats chasing cheese on a wheel......profit is profit so they are happy to indulge the idiot public in their fantasy power schemes.


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 12:03 a.m.

Just wanted to say a quick hello to the usual grinches on this site. It's all good!


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 2:12 a.m.

We are keeping it All In The Family.


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 12:01 a.m.

This is great news. Alternative energy is our future, and our grand-children's inheritance. Love it!

John Q

Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 4:13 a.m.

You can lecture us after you spend a year living downwind of a coal-powered power plant and eat a daily serving of mecury-tainted fish.


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 3:08 a.m.

Alternative energy is based on two lies: that we are running out of oil and that US consumers control the earth's weather. It is a business the market does not need and only exists because of dim witted central planning eco fraud socialists think they know more about the market then the market. Socialism always fails and so alternative energy is doomed to fail. ....if you don't believe me, feel free to be the next investor in line and learn the hard way!! LOL


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 2:59 a.m.

I agree it is our future but it shouyld waint until it is economically feasible and we are in better shape financially...........the gravy train is coming off the tracks


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 11:49 p.m.

The company then went on to buy a fleet of Chevy Volts, 3,000 acres of prime swamp land and is presently inquiring into those Bernie Madoff investments they've hard so much about.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 11:48 p.m.

These guys seem like good chaps and have taken full advantage of obama "incentives" paid for by clueless US taxpaying voters in support of their solar dream. DTE Solar Currents expired in May 2011 as have most of the other socialist green party eco fraud taxpayer give-aways. Yes - this solar joke COULD NOT BE BUILT TODAY. The tax deduction is an excellent loophole to close in 2012. Paint this pig any way you like, but solar panels are losers. They won't last much longer then that roof they're sitting on before their power production begins to drop off they will need to be REPLACED. That's right kids, REPLACED WITHOUT taxpayer financing the second time.....or more likely they get an expensive trip to a land fill. Corporate America butter quickly wake up and figure out that "global warming" is a fraud, CO2 is not a pollutant and humans don't control the earth's weather with the kind of power they produce or car they drive. Companies have only TWO CHOICES: Compete in the global market by buying the cheapest power available OR waste dwindling capital on phony eco schemes that are basically a prosperity tax. DTE is no guiding light - they have a guaranteed profit margin and will produce energy any stupid way Lansing tells them since the laughable users (us) pay the economic for their foolishness EVERY MONTH. LOL


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 5:38 p.m.

How much power is generated to make that waste? LOTS. The problem with nuclear waste containment is not with the power plants, it's with the country's failure to address is properly. It is a much bigger version of obama's Keystone Pipeline failure. This country will be great again when we empower leaders who push aside the eco fascists dim wits and move forward back to the prosperity we are capable of. ...until then, the nation gets what it deserves - a front row seat overlooking China's growing economy and global wealth.

John Q

Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 4:15 a.m.

Can we dump the nuclear waste in your backyard?


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 11:15 p.m.

What about using fiber optics for lighting in the building? Solar panels only work while the sun is shining so there has to be a way to store energy for night time use or they use DTE then. Will they repay the tax payer when they are making a profit? Where does DTE get the REC? I suppose from higher bills to the other customers. It is not renewable source of energy. All energy comes from the sun except for nuclear.

Bob Dively

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 9:20 p.m.

"That include longtime Swedish Engineering"? Longtime what?

Thomas Jones

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 9:05 p.m.

Congradsto James and his company! ArborMotion and their employees do a lot for this community. I am glad to read this article! For once so positive news!!! and to all the Debi Downers please eat crow! Great moment for ArborMotion!!!!! woooo woooo!!


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 8:49 p.m.

"I absolutely believe in protecting the environment we live in, but I'm not in favor of how people use it as a marketing gimmick," he said. "We use it more as a retention strategy to make us sustainable. Our customers, for instance, appreciate knowing their oil isn't going to the landfill. These things are important to my customers." If he's not in favor of how people use it as a marketing gimmick, then why's there an article in If it's important to his customers, and not as a marketing gimmick, they could be contact in other, less-marketing-orientated, ways... :)

Helen Gierman

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 5:42 p.m.

How fix roof leaks?


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 5:34 p.m.

Never wrote that the roof was penetrated - just that it will fail in time and need to be re-roofed with a few tons of useless eco junk sitting on it. ....and that may make make the cost tweek up a tad. LOL

Benjamin Meza-Wilson

Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

The roof membrane is NOT penetrated by the system. The Solar installer even fixed a leak for free!


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 3:14 a.m.

Don't worry - the membrane roof will fail about the same time the $175,000 worth of solar panels do. LOL


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 1:57 a.m.

You are not suppose to think of those things.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 5:10 p.m.

If you're against alternative clean energy, you're in favor of blackmail by those who declare themselves to be our enemies. All countries who do not embrace alternative clean energy sources will be relegated to third world status because of pollution, increased health care costs and debt to pay for the spiraling cost of extracting diminishing fossil fuels. If you want to rebalance the global political power structure, get off the pipe... line.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 4:48 p.m.

To the naysayers I mention that borrowing money whether from the Chines or Arab countries the benefit is in the now & the future. Not much different then borrowing money for home improvement. This borrowing is positive because they understand the plan how it pays for itself. Home improvement takes insorporates the idea of how it will pay for itself. Big difference.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 2:41 p.m.

Investing $178,000 to get 37000 KWH per year? That's worth about $4,000 worth of power per year at full retail value. Kind of a long payback time, isn't it? Then there is maintenance and repairs. The price of these systems has to come down further to make it viable.

Benjamin Meza-Wilson

Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

Daytona. Out of pocket is $60,000, the rest covered by DTE and Obama's 2009 stimulus. Also DTE gives credits off our bill for ALL electricity generated by the system (and put INTO the grid), even when we are directly using it, driving down our need to feed off the grid. Panels have manufacture warranty for 25 years at 80% efficiency (the efficiency degrades over time). Maintenance consists of clearing debris off the panels. Yes the price of panels is in a downward trend, and that is expected to continue.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 10:13 p.m.

Bad math. 32KW panels would produce about 100,000 KW-hrs per year. So more like $10K/year. Not great, but if financed at 5%, it would pay for itself.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 1:49 p.m.

"Incentive programs from DTE, along with federal grants, made the project not only financially possible but it is ultimately expected to become profitable, Snider said." Glad we borrowed money from the Chinese to help these guys out. Wait!! Isn't that called "corporate welfare"? I thought we hated that? It's all so confusing.

Benjamin Meza-Wilson

Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.

Eyeheart your concern with the Chinese holding US Treasury debt is a valid one. Certainly I believe this is a major issue for the economic security of our country. Unfortunately I fail to make the association to our Solar PV system. I hope you can enlighten me. You would be correct in noting that Obama, John McCain and all the 2012 Republican candidates are bought and paid for by large multinational banks (with the exception of Ron Paul). Goldman Sachs was Obama's largest private contributor in his 2008 bid. Goldman Sachs (as well as many other large multinationals) are making substantial investments in the Chinese. My university education was in Political Science and Sociology. In a graduate level class I gave a presentation and wrote an essay on multinational trade. My understanding is the root cause of the Chinese holding US Treasury bonds is the trade deficit. In other words, the Chinese are the ones manufacturing things, and we are the ones purchasing. Ergo the solution lies in an increase in US based manufacturing and exports of goods to other countries (including China). If this is incorrect statement, please let me know. The Solar panels were manufactured in the USA by Solar World and the inverters are also built here, by Sunny Boy. US and local based businesses were used for virtually every aspect of this project. As far as the Federal Government grant, it was part of Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and requires US built components be used. We have 60 months of payments before our return on investment for this project. After that if there is profit in our company we will pay tax on it. The owner of Arbormotion (my father) has lived in Ann Arbor since 1961 and attended Pioneer High. If you are in favor of increasing the taxation on small, Ann Arbor based businesses I would find that stance very interesting. If you could elaborate on how we are getting a special break here I would really appreciate it.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 2:57 p.m.

"Do we borrow money from China to spend on unneeded military systems?" DId I say we didn't? We should spend anybodies money on anything "unneeded". (Your words, not mine). "To make up for tax loopholes for multinational corporations?" Like this one? BTW, yes, those should be closed as well. Sorry to wreck your day with my maddening consistency.

John Q

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 2:17 p.m.

Funny how the response is always "borrowing money from China". Do we borrow money from China to spend on unneeded military systems? To make up for tax loopholes for multinational corporations?

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

"The system covers about 6,000 square feet of the roof." how much does it cost to remove and reinstall when they need a new roof? what happens when a leak shows up in somebodies office? I'm not anti solar energy at all, but when you cover a a roof with a limited life cycle with these panels one has to factor in the cost of removing the panels when the roof fails.

Benjamin Meza-Wilson

Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 2:05 p.m.

Look at the above photo Craig. You can see the panels are locked together and weighted down by concrete blocks. Of course the engineering specifications required by Pittsfield Township made sure the weight is appropriate for the dead load as well as any high speed winds. It took 7 hours for a staff of 5 to install the panels on the roof. I am guesstimating that it will take 10 hours to disassemble and rearrange in order to have the roof redone. Regardless the cost savings on electricity dwarfs the extra expense necessary to do this. Yes absolutely anyone considering roof mounted Solar PV must also be mindful of this issue. In fact it was one of James Snider's first questions/concerns.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 3:56 p.m.

Benjamin, My questions may seem "negative", they aren't. I was in residential roofing for many years so all things roof related interest me. when you say "That is a 10 hour job" do you mean 10 man hours as in 2 guys 5 hours? If not how many actual man hours? Would the panels move to another part of the roof rather than the ground I assume? Would they be dismantled by roofers or the original installers? What impact do they have on the warranty of a roof product? while they don't penetrate the roof system they certainly impede the drying process. Does that impact a warranty?

Benjamin Meza-Wilson

Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.

Craig. Absolutely this was in mind while designing the system. The panels are locked together and fastened down with weight. The panels' mounting DOES NOT penetrate the roof. The roof is due to be redone in 2027, at that time the panels would have to be unlocked and removed (as you indicate). That is a 10 hour job in addition to getting the roof redone. By 2027 the Solar system will have saved our company $70,000.00 in electricity expense (assuming today's pricing for a watt).


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 1:50 p.m.

doh! (Slapping head)


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 1:32 p.m.

Good for them. I'm glad this worked out for them and hope the credits will be renewed so that more companies can do the same. "I absolutely believe in protecting the environment we live in, but I'm not in favor of how people use it as a marketing gimmick," he said." I agree with this. More and more large corporations are jumping on the charity and green bandwagons in order to make themselves look good and make money. I guess we can only hope that their good deeds outweigh the bad.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 1:31 p.m.

Congratulations to James and the other forward thinking folks at ArborMotion! They use their reclaimed motor oil to heat the facility, and now this solar panel array will cut their energy costs. Keep an eye on these guys ... what will they do next?


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 3:03 a.m.

Hilarius. Ignorance is such bliss - lets all pretend Michigan's demand for power is not dropping and that the most economical power we have access to is generated by our coal plants. ...lets cover our heads with foil and have a ECO PARADE!!

Thomas Jones

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 9:06 p.m.

I agree 1 million percent BIGMIKE!!!!!


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.

Happy to see this program. Solar power is always available and has no waste. I can't imagine anyone having objections to it.


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 1:56 a.m.

I've seen quite a few houses out on Huron River Drive with these on their roofs. I am seriously considering it once I get my roof replaced. At a lot of people don't do this because they are not sure if it will work for them. Trust me this would really give the energy companies a run for their money.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 5:55 p.m.

I'm not sure why thinks that accelerated depreciation is a subsidy. For one thing, allowing people or companies to keep their own money is very different from forcibly transferring money from one entity to another. For another, those are legitimate business expenses that are already tax deductible, just over several years instead of one year. The tax is ultimately the same. The cost of keeping the Straits of Hormuth open is a legitimate argument against oil, although our Navy keeps the seas free of pirates for other goods too.

Mike K

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 4:12 p.m.

There's the old stand by "comprehensive energy package"....... which when translated means anti oil and gas.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 2:49 p.m.

Calm down, Mike. I'm not advocating using only solar energy. I think it's a great source to have as part of a comprehension energy package.

Mike K

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

Do you know how solar panels are made? Is there any waste? How about the carbon footprint of fabricating silicone cells? How about the toxic metals used in thin film technologies (Cadmium)? Think beyond what your party tells you. No objections? How about it cost too much? If we had to use only solar for our energy needs, the rich and poor alike would pay much more - not to mention the environmental impact.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

Better than subsidizing the oil companies! From "The federal government provides the oil industry with numerous tax breaks designed to ensure that domestic companies can compete with international producers and that gasoline remains cheap for American consumers. Federal tax breaks that directly benefit oil companies include: the Percentage Depletion Allowance (a subsidy of $784 million to $1 billion per year), the Nonconventional Fuel Production Credit ($769 to $900 million), immediate expensing of exploration and development costs ($200 to $255 million), the Enhanced Oil Recovery Credit ($26.3 to $100 million), foreign tax credits ($1.11 to $3.4 billion), foreign income deferrals ($183 to $318 million), and accelerated depreciation allowances ($1.0 to $4.5 billion)."


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 1:38 p.m.

Other than the subsidies, of course.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 12:35 p.m.

SWEET! Love this!

Silly Sally

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 12:33 p.m.

If it were such a "no brainer", then why have su few companies done so? WHy does this work only if DTE pays out a renewable energy credits (REC) that is mandated by the state legligslature? If not for this forced REC, would this project be done? Would it make economic sense? Would nuclear be better?

Benjamin Meza-Wilson

Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 3:34 a.m.

Shepard. Maybe try reading Adam Smith instead of Karl Marx. You seem to know a lot about "central planning" and socialism. In free energy markets alternative technologies, such as Solar PV, REDUCE the amount required from other sources, such as oil. This will DRIVE DOWN the price of oil as DEMAND DECREASES. Unfortunately, as you indicate, energy markets are NOT left to the open market. They are heavily subsidized by governments, pricing is controlled through taxation and fixing by DANGEROUS INTERNATIONAL CARTELS, in the case of petroleum. Bush Jr's first act when he took power was to give billions to oil companies in subsidies. War and acts of terrorism directly related to international oil cartel actors has marred world history; be it the Bush Family Mafia or the Saudi Arabian Bin Laden. Alternative energy technologies exemplify the power of free market, entrepreneurism, innovation, the American dream. Oil cartel actors hate the American dream, that is why they oppose alternatives.


Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 4:04 a.m.

"....Solar is not an end all for the power needs of our country, but an increase will reduce our need for other technologies; coal, fossil fuels, nuclear...." That's the wrong mantra for power generation. You seem to be confusing obama's green party eco fraud central planning socialist schemes to raise the global commodity price of oil with power generation. IN both cases, socialist obama has decried a market that does not exist, wasted billions and will FAIL, taking our tax dollars with them. With respect to power, you are separating price from the commodity, which makes no sense unless you think Michigan residents heating their homes control the earth's weather. As Europe found out the hard way, this is a huge and endless waste of money as the Chinese thrive and stuff their pockets with dollars even as obama is crashing it's value. Wake up.

Benjamin Meza-Wilson

Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 1:57 p.m.

The financing was extremely challenging, I assume other companies met with the same issue. Solar is inherently safer than nuclear, just ask anyone near Fukushima, Japan. Yes Solar is not an end all for the power needs of our country, but an increase will reduce our need for other technologies; coal, fossil fuels, nuclear.


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 2:56 a.m.

Clearly some have no sense of scale for economics, power generated or the absurdity of the global warming fraud. The debate is over - AA is hopeless! LOL


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 4:55 p.m.

What do recommend that we do with the radioactive waste? Send it somewhere else? It's ours to "own" forever. Maybe shoot it to the center of the Sun?

John Q

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 2:15 p.m.

Nuclear plants cost billions of dollars. For rate payers, this is a no-brainer.