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Posted on Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 3:28 p.m.

Ypsilanti would benefit from embracing alternative energy sources

By Guest Column

Imagine walking down Michigan Avenue or through Depot Town and glancing up to see solar panels harnessing the power of the sun from the rooftops, awnings and backyards of offices, warehouses, stores, schools, and city buildings. The reality is that we have a vast untapped solar resource, but Michigan continues to depend on outdated energy sources like coal, gas and oil that both pollute our environment and drain our resources.


Depot Town in Ypsilanti.

Steve Pepple |

Michigan spends billions of dollars every year importing dirty energy from other states and countries. Coal alone is one of the largest sources of soot, smog and other particulate pollution, which contributes to poor air quality and causes asthma attacks and other serious health problems for Michiganders. Solar is a homegrown solution to these major problems. Installing solar panels around Ypsilanti will inject hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy rather than spending money out-of-state on coal, gas and oilfossil fuels.

The case for solar power in Ypsilanti has never been stronger. Solar continues to get cheaper, with the cost of solar panels dropping by 75 percent since 2008 and with the federal tax credit knocking down the total project price by 30 percent. On top of that, DTE has restarted the SolarCurrent program, which awards a rebate of $0.20 per installed watt of solar and an ongoing incentive of $0.03 per kilowatt hour generated for about 15 years. Combined, this makes the return on investment about 8 to 10 years for a solar installation that will last at least 30 years.

Solar is growing by leaps and bounds, and it’s only going to keep rising. While workers continue to be laid off as we recover from recession, solar employment is expected to grow by 17.2 percent through 2013 and to add nearly 20,000 new solar workers nationwide. Right here in Michigan, solar installations have increased more than threefold from 2010 to 2011. Ypsilanti is well-positioned to benefit from this solar growth. And the city already has demonstrated its ability to embrace the benefits of solar by bringing the National Solar Tour to town, as well as a proposed $4 million solar project by DTE.

Much of the growth in local solar can be attributed to SolarYpsi. SolarYpsi has helped local businesses, government and schools win more than $100,000 in grants and donations to put solar panels on the Ypsilanti Food Co-Op, City Hall, and Adams School, and has helped many others with their solar projects. Currently, there are 13 major solar installations in Ypsilanti.

Ypsilanti could be a national leader in solar power. Already, the city’s leadership on solar is attracting attention from across the country. SolarYpsi has reached more than 3,000 people in face-to-face presentations about solar power, and well over a a quarter of a million viewers from around the world with the video Google made about SolarYpsi. The SolarYpsi website even had 1,000 online visitors in one day after the video was launched.

Let’s build off of the success of SolarYpsi and set an ambitious solar goal for our city, establish programs that will put solar on more homes and businesses, and install solar panels on more public buildings and schools. We ask City Council to make Ypsilanti a “solar destination” and set a bold goal of 1,000 solar roofs by 2020. Together, we can make Ypsilanti a solar city.

Dave Strenski is the founder of SolarYpsi, and Virginia Shannon is a state associate with Environment Michigan. They are both based in Ypsilanti.



Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 4:17 p.m.

"Installing solar panels around Ypsilanti will inject hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy rather than spending money out-of-state on coal, gas and oilfossil fuels." I am all for cleaner energy sources. And homegrown would be great as we need the local investment. But these numbers are pie in the sky and based on federal money that is starting to dry up. And where are these hundreds of thousands of dollars going to be injected? Do these vague numbers include the original capital that will need to be recouped before any savings is seen? The city has serious financial issues and barely afford to pay its bills and has a future filled with lots of red numbers. If they want to start pushing for citizens to go solar, that's great and I am all for it. But a capital outlay like this is from the city or county is just not in the cards. Right now, I would prefer to hire police and fire and city staff and repair infrastructure before looking at projects like this.


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 3:44 p.m.

I am not sure the authors have spent much time in Ypsilanti or the Midwest. For solar power to really be effective, you need the ingredient, what do you call it -- oh yeh, the sun. Great Lakes states get so much grey, I wonder if solar power will ever make much sense. Certainly not in its current configuration and low efficiency of conversion. And, BTW, it appears that many groups are now saying solar power is at best carbon neutral -- apparently when all is said and done from production of panels, to installation to transmission, much of the luster wears off. There are so many things that can be done to improve energy efficiency, the cleanest form of energy. A watt not used is a watt not produced. It allows for current capacity to be focused elsewhere. Solar can be appealing, but let's put it in the proper perspective. Just like LED lighting -- listen to the industry and its the best thing since s.. But if you scratch the surface, pull back the layers, if you will, you will find out that it isn't all it's cracked up to be, nor is it the cleanest or best lighting technology around. Solar may be part of a solution for Ypsilanti, but let's put it in its proper perspective. It is expensive, generates more power on top of our current excess, it does nothing to address the current massive inefficiencies in our system, and the production of the panels and materials used are, as I said, coming into question as to how clean they really are. I would hope the city council will take a very close look and do a downtown investigation before accepting the recommendations of the authors. They present a compelling argument, yet it doesn't even begin to address the drawbacks. And one of those not yet mentioned is taxpayer money. Solar has issues; it is not the panacea presented here.


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 2:15 p.m.

A "solar destination"? You mean Ypsi has gotten so bad that now even the sun won't come there?


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 2:10 p.m.

And what happens when the government stops subsidizing solar panels?

average joe

Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 1:09 p.m.

If these folks feel so strongly that Ypsi should be a "solar destination", then I assume Mr Strenski will be willing to offer the city those 1000 solar roof installations at cost, or less. Otherwise, this opinion piece isn't much more than an advertisment.


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 9:45 a.m.

"Outdated" is over-used; I am told to use an outdated form of transportion, walking, instead of driving my Medicare-sled Mercury to MacDonalds. In truth, whatever works and has the best outcome is worthwhile, old or new. How about damming the local river and running turbines?


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 4:30 a.m.

Why not wind mills likes They have on Skyline High school in Ann Arbor.

Roger Kuhlman

Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 9:56 p.m.

Yeah sure waste a pile of federal taxpayer money on wind mills like Ann Arbor and Skyline High School wants to do. No one--that is no left-wing Democrat--seems to care that Wind Turbines make absolutely no sense in Ann Arbor and will be a huge loser of gpvernmemt money.


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 1:42 p.m.

Because this part of Michigan has inadequate wind to make wind power economical.


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 3:25 a.m.

I love when they talk about Ypsi they show a picture of Depot Town. Just saying.


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 2:13 a.m.

There is a fundamental disconnect in this editorial: The electricity supplier for Ypsi (and the rest of this area) is DTE. If you want DTE to switch its generation to new installations, harangue DTE about it. The city of Ypsi is in a property tax crisis because of its major loss of industry. It has a hard time providing essential services. There is no way it could scrape up the funds to go into the electricity business.

Top Cat

Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 1:58 a.m.

Sorry Dave but solar is a failed and expensive technology. It is a fad that has come and gone. Natural gas is here, always available, affordable, reliable and warm. You can put this crap on your house but don't subject the rest of us to this eyesore.

Homeland Conspiracy

Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 2:22 a.m.

Fracking will save us all...who need good drinking water anyways


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 1:33 a.m.

" While workers continue to be laid off as we recover from recession," How can anyone promote solar panels when they can't even get the above quoted phrase right,- if workers continue to be laid off WE ARE NOT recovering from recession, it ain't over! throwing money at "feel good" projects that will not out live their useful life BEFORE their break even point is reached is pointless. coal is cleaner now than it has ever been, and employs a lot of people in the distribution system, which also helps the local economy.

Dog Guy

Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 12:35 a.m.

Planet Fitness, Powerhouse, Curves, and other gyms in Ypsilanti have yet to connect their exercise equipment to electrical generators. Solar advocates turn a blind eye to this truly non-polluting alternative energy source.


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 12:10 a.m.

At this point in Ypsilanti's history I feel that it would be boardline criminal for the city council/admin to take on consideration/adoption of ANYTHING other than keeping the city fiscally solvent and the development of Water ST and the repayment of that debt. Get that stuff squared away and I will sign off on Ypsi being a "solar destination" or what ever you want to call it. Heck put up a water wheel on the Huron for "clean" energy for all I care at that point.


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 2:07 a.m.

jjc155....That's funny.I was actually thinking about putting something under the bridge for power. There's still a dam where the old paper mill was

ypsi 1

Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 11:57 p.m.

Ypsilanti has often supported Mr Strenski and Ms Shannon's solar efforts and I'm sure will continue to do so. City council just got done paving the way for electricity saving LED street light districts. Much of the fleet will be hybrid powered as time goes along too. I think its amazing that council, especially Pete Murdock is taking as much funding as they can afford to go for long term investment in clean energy, especially facing the challenges they have. Wouldn't it be wonderful if EMU could follow U-M's lead and offer student, faculty, and funding development to solar, wind, and hydro alternatives?


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 3:57 p.m.

Yes, and unfortunately, they did not run out the real costs of moving to LED lighting. Why don't you ask Paw Paw, Michigan, why they didn't go LED? You might be surprised, but then, if people did their homework, LED would likely be limited to only certain applications, and street lighting is not one of them.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 10:57 p.m.

How about we get the financial affairs of the country in order, freeing up money to buy these expensive solar panels? The country has to borrow or print .46 of every dollar it spends. Coal may be the thing that saves us from financial ruin but I doubt it. The country is firmly under control of the environmental money is no object party with dreamers like you at the helm and has managed to convince over 50% of the population that running the country into the ground is the way to go. The rich will bail us out is what I've been hearing............even they don't have enough money.

Roger Kuhlman

Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 9:47 p.m.

If the world had to rely mainly on solar energy today, we would face an unimaginable ecological, economic, and social calamity. Look you have to face facts. Real people can not live in a world of imagnination and good intentions.


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 7:35 p.m.



Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 3:55 p.m.

I shudder when I hear people talking about coal as a potential solution, even in jest. If the coal industry and the utilities paid for their pollution and all the effects from it, coal would likely be the most expensive source of energy we have. But because they do not pay for the mess they create, they make millions that should otherwise be used to clean up their environmental damage, health concerns, and pollution. Why are so many coal fired power plants asking to be released from meeting EPA guidelines -- because they do not want to pay for cleaning up the nest they themselves have fouled. And why will they close down -- because if they pay their own costs, they cannot afford to operate.

Roger Kuhlman

Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 10:33 p.m.

Do you know anything about the expensiveness, negative environmental by-products and lack of effectiveness of current solar power technologies? Did you know that in the fabrication of solar panels some of the world's potent greenhouse gases are released? Get educated on the subject of alternative energy sources before you enthusiastically and uncritically endorse them.

Roger Kuhlman

Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 9:43 p.m.

Wrong. I do not endorse the fossil fuel industry just because because I have commonsense about the fairy tales of today's solar technology. The way to most effectively deal with our energy problems is to reduce energy consumption and stop human population growth in America.


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 3:50 p.m.

Unfortunately, that is why solar power is now considered "carbon neutral" at best and not a solution to greenhouse gases and the CO2 levels. The same can be said for LED lighting which is being embraced by so many people -- the LED industry has told one side of the story -- look deeper and you'll find other alternatives that are cheaper, better and use less electricity. Solar has a long way to go before I believe it can be cost effective, efficient and environmentally friendly, especially in a Great Lakes surrounded state where the sun doesn't shine as much as it does shine.

Benito Cassino

Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 11:45 p.m.

Yes - because nothing really compares better than good ole clean coal and petroleum - right?

David Cahill

Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 9:55 p.m.

The more solar, the better.


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 12:04 a.m.

....for the solar panel companies, lol at this point they are the ones who benefit from others going solar.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 10:58 p.m.

Get out your checkbook David..............


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 9:53 p.m.

I support the general sentiment, but what would it mean for Ypsilanti City Council to set a goal? Are you asking them for empty hand-waving, or are there actual policy measures you are proposing that would increase the installation/use of solar power?


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 9:18 p.m.

Nice going Solar Ypsi, ruin the historical character of Depot Town with your scheme. Ann Arbor already has its solar panel eyesore at Plymouth Rd. and Huron Parkway, courtesy of U-M.


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 1:45 a.m.

I don't think the solar panels are that bad - I live nearby and drive that route on Plymouth regularly. If we're going to consider alternative sources of energy they have to go somewhere...


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 9:46 p.m.

The Ypsi Food Co-op is Michigan's only solar-powered grocery store in Michigan....and has been for some time. The Riverside Bakery and Ypsi City Hall have solar panels atop their buildings too. The historical character of those buildings has not been ruined by any stretch of the imagination. Solar power doesn't have to be ugly.

Homeland Conspiracy

Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 8:43 p.m.

Imagine walking down Michigan Avenue or through Depot Town & feeling safe....just saying


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 7:33 p.m.

Imagine reading comments about Ypsilanti stories on and not having to deal with the ignorance of haters over and over and over again. Just sayin'.


Sun, Feb 17, 2013 : 3:45 a.m.

I doubt very much that solar power is going to make anyone safer. Let's focus on more police.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 10:43 p.m.

Homeland.....Yep you sure do.I think the main problem is that Ypsi and WCSD reports a lot of crime the next day AAPD doesn't. Take a look and you can see a lot more happens in A2 than gets reported.If I remember correctly at one time would publish the map every week.But they don't now ( or maybe never have ).I'm pretty sure I know why but I'm tired of beating a dead horse

Homeland Conspiracy

Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 10:33 p.m.

Guess I read too much


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 9:53 p.m.

Michigan Ave yes.....but Depot Town....are you dense man?


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 9:04 p.m.

News flash... there's more crime on the UofM campus than there is in Depot Town ...just saying