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Posted on Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor residents happy that University of Michigan solar array off Fuller Road is 'tucked away'

By Kellie Woodhouse

View New University of Michigan solar installation s in a larger map

University of Michigan and DTE Energy officials outlined their plans for a 1.56-acre solar array off of Fuller Road during a Wednesday meeting.

The array includes roughly 1,000 panels, which are 5 feet tall, and seven sun tracking panels that stand 17 feet tall when fully vertical. The panels sit roughly 120 feet off Fuller Road, between Bonisteel Boulevard and Beal Avenue, and will produce 220 kilowatts of energy.


A rendering of the solar array as viewed from Fuller Road.

"It's nicely tucked away and that's appreciated, that it is not sitting on the roadway. As you know, that was the biggest issue with the Plymouth [installation]," Ward 2 city councilwoman Jane Lumm told U-M officials. Six residents, including Lumm, attended the evening meeting at Pierpont Commons on U-M's campus.

Several Northeast Ann Arbor residents say the 2.4-acre solar array off Plymouth Road, at the edge of the North Campus Research Complex near Nixon Road and Huron Parkway, is too close to the road and were upset that the university did not consult residents before installing the panels in the fall.

"This is totally different," she said after the meeting. "This is obviously a much nicer approach on the front end."

There is less of a residential presence near the Fuller Road array, Lumm added. The Plymouth Road array, which produces 430 kilowatts of energy, is near residential neighborhoods.

U-M agreed to lease the land off Fuller Road to DTE for 20 years at a rate of $6,000 a year. That's in addition to the $12,000 annual payment U-M receives for the Plymouth Road array. U-M officials say the payments go toward landscaping the sites.

The site cost $1.5 million for DTE to install, said DTE representative Ray Zoia. He added that DTE is working to reach two other solar array agreements for the Ann Arbor area, in addition to the U-M installations and a possible Ypsilanti installation. One agreement is with the city and the other agreement is with an undisclosed agent, Zoia said.

The array is part of the energy giant's Solar Currents program.


DTE will begin installing its second solar array on U-M's campus in May.

U-M can exit its contract with DTE early if planners decide to repurpose the site, but the school must pay DTE to do so.

"It's definitely a future building site, but as we have been working with the College of Engineering and other users ... we believe there are sufficient alternative developable areas," U-M's lead planner Sue Gott said.

The two North Campus locations were chosen for their proximity to existing DTE circuits and because they encompas enough empty space and are not earmarked for construction in the near future.

There's existing vegetation between Fuller Road and the space planned for the array and Gott said the university plans to plant additional foliage to act as a barrier between the road and the array.

Gott said she expects the installations to grow on U-M students and Ann Arbor residents.

"After they are up, we'll kind of experience them over time and see how they become kind of indigenous," she said. "They begin to take on their own personality and become part of the vocabulary of the landscape."

Andy Berki, manager of U-M's sustainability office, said the visibility of the arrays serves an educational purpose.

"Students can access them," he said. "There are learning objectives associated with that."

Officials said the university and DTE considered building the array on parking lots and structures, or even buildings, but scrapped the idea because of the expense. Zoia said an array on a parking lot or structure would be 25 to 30 percent more expensive to install.

“It's good that they’re tucked away," said Doug Kelbaugh, an Ann Arbor resident who also teaches urban planning at U-M. "But long term I think we’ll look back on this historically as a pretty early, crude solar array."

He added: "We’ve got to grow up and start doing this in a more integrated way."

Construction on the array will begin around May 6 and finish in August before students return to campus for the fall semester. The array is expected to be fully operational by September.

U-M President Mary Sue Coleman first announced U-M's plans to install solar panels during a sustainability address in September 2011. The panels are part of a $14 million initiative to enhance sustainability on the Ann Arbor campus.

Gott said there are no plans in the works for another array.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 2:10 a.m.

The first poster on every renewable energy discussion is a DTE shill without exception. DTE is very good at disinformation. Many of their posts start with, "I support renewable energy, but..." Why is it legal for a monopoly to spend money defending their monopoly position with out disclosing their villainous intentions? If you think DTE is looking out for your interests, you are a fool. Three steps: Force decoupling of regulated and unregulated businesses Eliminate their monopoly status Let DTE shareholders pay for stupid investments made by DTE, not rate payers.


Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 2:18 p.m.

NoSUVforMe its a good investment. PV Solar on this scale will have a payback for DTE in less than 8 years and works towards meeting the state managed renewable energy portfolio standard. PV solar panels are a great benign way to meet the distributed electric needs in our community.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 11:49 p.m.

I continue to be disappointed that this amount of forethought could not have been directed toward the placement of the solar panels at the old Pfizer site. The turned what was a very pleasing view of the building into a narrow corridor where all you can see are the panels - you can't even see the buildings behind them anymore. It's truly mind boggling that they built this tall structure on TOP of an artificial hill that was built up many years ago to hide a parking structure. Why not remove some or all of the artificial hill so the panels wouldn't tower over the street?

Sean Thomas

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 10:41 p.m.

I'm glad they're using this space now. I checked fire extinguishers for the U on North Capus last summer when they tore the ugly old trailers down that used to be there. Then it was just a nasty empty field. This is a perfect spot for solar panels, really.

Jay Thomas

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 9:49 p.m.

I don't think DTE really wants these thing it's just that there is a state mandate that they have to use so much "renewable" energy. If I'm wrong someone tell me how much of a return they are generating on this 14 million vs their coal fired plants. Anyway, UofM gets to collect some rent in return for the rest of us paying higher electric bills.


Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

Jay Thomas - at this scale the payback will be less than 8 years and DTE gets the REC credits while the university defrays its maintenance costs on land that otherwise does nothing for our property taxes....its a very good thing! I just installed a system on my house and its meeting 50% of my annual electric load - even in Michigan!


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 7:26 p.m.

NIMBY strikes again Can't screw up a individual's window view, that's more important than anything else!


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 4 p.m.

With all the university buildings, wouldn't it make sense to put panels on the top of them, rather than using up real estate?


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 6:10 p.m.

Maybe not on every building, but they certainly should be on every parking lot and parking structure that the UofM owns.

Jake C

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 4:55 p.m.

That's a valid question. The short answer is that putting solar panels on rooftops adds complexity and additional maintenance issues to the project, which also adds to the cost. It puts additional weight on a rooftop that might not have been designed to support the extra weight of the panels. Bolting panels securely to a rooftop (instead of anchoring them to the ground) can cause issues with water leaks & drainage. Roof access is usually not a simple matter in many locations, so you may have to climb ladders just to get to the roof access, and switching out damaged panels may require heavy-duty cranes in order to get the panels off the 2nd or 3rd story of whatever building they might be on. In comparison, putting solar panels on the ground is typically just taking up space that would not be used for any other purpose besides a green lawn.

Kellie Woodhouse

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 2:52 p.m.

Sorry for the poor quality images. I had to take pictures of the renderings as the university did not have digital copies readily available.

Rita Mitchell

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 2:27 p.m.

Thank you Jane Lumm and Sally Petersen, for serving your constituents by calling for the public meeting. This should be the model for city/UM planning.

David Cahill

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 2:22 p.m.

I agree with Council member Lumm. This is a much improved project -- and the Sovereign Nation of the U of M even notified people ahead of time. Mirabile dictu!


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 1:48 p.m.

What is confusing to me is how the UofM who doesn't pay taxes on the property can then turn around and lease it to a private business, who presumably would have had to pay taxes on it had it been theirs. Clearly, I'm no expert in these matters, I'm just curious about these partnerships and the results of them.

Jay Thomas

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 9:45 p.m.

So an 18,000 profit. Just because they choose to spend it something they were already doing doesn't make it anything but a profit.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 6:09 p.m.

The U is a state entity, with constitutional authority equal to any other piece of state government. It's property is state property. Zoning, property taxes, etc do not apply to any of it.

Kellie Woodhouse

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 2:49 p.m.

Jane Lumm mentioned that she checked with the city and the leased land remains untaxable. If you think about it, such logic would mean that the student unions —which lease space to commercial restaurants-- would also be subject to taxes. Or even NCRC, which leases space to the VA Hospital. University officials did say that there is no profit from the panels. The $18,000 a year it receives for the two installations go toward landscaping the space.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

I'm in favor of the arrays and solar energy. The problem has been the lack of good integrated design. I really think it can be done! And between the art, engineering, and urban planning minds in the area, it should be done! Take these complaints as a compliment - a testament - of what we think can happen here.

NE Steward

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 5:05 p.m.

Thank you - well said. The U of M has the School of Natural Resources and the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute - they should get involved..a good lesson to be learned


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 12:55 p.m.

I wonder if the University and the City have collaborated on street plantings for Plymouth Rd.? Maybe there are hardy evergreens that would soften the lines of the panels.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 4:51 p.m.

If they planted some nice shade trees next to the solar panels, it would be really nifty.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 12:50 p.m.

This article is about a new array to be located within the north campus, tucked away form the road and nowhere near a residential neighborhood. But I see a lot of angst surfacing over the plymouth rd array... just get over it, people.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 12:48 p.m.

What is that monstrosity on Plymouth Road?

David Paris

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 6 p.m.

A water tower?

Kai Petainen

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 11:49 a.m.

I'll complain when I complain, but I also believe in voicing support and thanks as well. My thoughts don't represent the University but my own, as a resident living near it. I was at this meeting and it's a great project. Build it! The University did the right thing by notifying the residents and so I went -- thanks to UofM for listening to residents. They explained it to the residents and listened to their concerns. I like the location, I like the setup, I like the neat stand-alone solar panels, I like that it's not a wasteful wind project. Solar power in Ann Arbor makes sense to me, and so I love the idea. Build it! Go blue! And thanks for holding the session.

Kellie Woodhouse

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 2:51 p.m.

Yes, Kai, you were very supportive of this project last night. I thought your idea for some type of public art near the Fuller Road installation was interesting, especially if it originated from art and design students as you suggested. I know someone else mentioned a sun dial, which would be fitting.

NE Steward

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 12:32 p.m.

Thank you Sally Petersen and Jane Lumm for making it happen!

NE Steward

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 11:41 a.m.

I am an advocate of solar power (and panels) but would not call metal bleachers next to our neighborhood indigenous! The opportunity to integrate the installation on Plymouth road with the landscape was mismanaged and does not do justice to the promotion of this alternative source of energy . With Sue Gott we "limit the Green Space" and "pave baby pave".... Wait until she re-developes Northwoods - it will make the srip malls look nice!


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 11:39 a.m.

What residential neighborhoods are near the Plymouth Road site? Are we talking about the neighborhoods behind the Plymouth Mall, the McDonalds, Rite Aide and PNC Bank? Solar Panels...Bad! Nasty run down strip malls...Good.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 6:05 p.m.

There was once one drug store and one pharmacy in New York City. There was once one drug store and one pharmacy in Chicago, Detroit, Ann Arbor. I for one can't stand to live in a society where we are forced to live where we don't want to live. How dare they force me to live near strip malls and solar panels!


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 2:50 p.m.

Kellie, That was not just "some residents", it was the homeowners association.

Kellie Woodhouse

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 2:44 p.m.

For specificity, I recall some residents of Orchard Hills-Maplewood neighborhood being upset over the Plymouth installation.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 1:37 p.m.

@teeters, those homes were all there before the places you mention! I grew up in the closest neighborhood to the array, playing in the fields and the woods in the area. There was one grocery and drug store only.

NE Steward

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 12:02 p.m.

Perhaps you need to explore NE-Ann Arbor and learn a little bit about our neighborhoods and how much we contribute to A2....We try to be good stewards of this corridor/gateway but our community has not received much support from downtown folks and the planning commision. Pfizer and other coproate research and development facilites which used to be located up in this area were outstanding stewards and also contributed a lot of money to the city. We miss them! We do not like the strip malls and have fought each one of them but lost. We love the U of M and we were happy to see them come north and east, but now a little intimidated and skeptical of their tactics and plans....As the U of M comes so will the strip malls!!


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 11:19 a.m.

@Karen Would you rather have a smoke blowing coal fire generating plant or maybe another nuclear reactor power plant? I would rather have a bunch of non polluting solar panels to look at myself.


Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 2:14 a.m.

Karen speaks for DTE. Wouldn't it be nice if we could pipe DTE smokestack poison directly into their lungs? This may seem harsh but they are asking for more poison in our air so they should get their share first.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 2:47 p.m.

Your question is irrelevant, as these are not the alternatives. These DTE solar arrays produce a negligible amount of energy. They do not replace the generation of energy from any power plant. DTE gets most of its energy from coal, and this is a PR move to pretend to go solar with a minimal investment. The locations were chosen for maximum visibility for this PR purpose. In contrast, DTE keeps stalling a response to the Ypsilanti proposal for a much more substantial solar installation over a landfill.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

The real question is do you want to py 10 cents per kilowatt hour or $1.00 per kilowatt hour. Under that premise the answer is clear.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 11:24 a.m.

Which provides more energy for more people?


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 11 a.m.

"Gott said she expects the installations to grow on U-M students and Ann Arbor residents. "After they are up, we'll kind of experience them over time and see how they become kind of indigenous," she said. "They begin to take on their own personality and become part of the vocabulary of the landscape."" Naturally, since she intends to do this whether or not we want it. Another totally unresponsive city official trying to ram an agenda down our throats. Reminds me of the bicycle lanes for a city with an aging population that doesn't ride bicycles. Actually Ms. Gott, the panels are incredibly intrusive and offensive. And will always remain so. Are you planning to move the personality-laden panels back from the edge of the Plymouth Road site so that we can see a bit of the sky and grass that used to be visible? Or does your landscape vocabulary not permit it?


Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 2:10 p.m.

Karen, not sure where you are coming from on this but for UofM to work towards becoming self sustaining on the energy front is a good thing. I'd like to see them make use of the land for revenues in an environmentally friendly way that helps ward off every spiraling tuition costs to cover maintenance. An array of this scale will have a payback of less than 8 years and then will be a net revenue generator.

Kai Petainen

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 9:43 p.m.

"a city with an aging population" It's funny that you say that... because... last night at the meeting they had a series of panels that showed the installation. On one of the panels they had a car driving by the solar installation. I think that car was from the 1950s?


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 6:05 p.m.

What city official are you talking about?

Jonathan Smith

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 3:50 p.m.

"a city with an aging population" This is a misleading and even inaccurate statement. According to US census data, Ann Arbor's median age actually declined slightly between 2000 and 2010, from 28.1 to 27.8. And not only is the city's median age as of 2010 well below the medians for Michigan as a whole (38.9) and for the US as a whole (37.2), but Ann Arbor has the 8th lowest median age in the entire country for cities with populations over 100,000. Yes, the adult population aged between 2000 and 2010, but the number of people aged 15 to 19 and 19 to 24 also grew, both in absolute and percentage terms, and these two groups represent the two largest segments of the city's population, comprising almost a third of the total. And that puts aside the issue of the health and activity levels of the remainder of the adult population. I haven't looked up data on those, but it seems safe to assume that those levels are better than the rest of Michigan and the US, given the Ann Arbor population's higher-than-average levels of educational attainment and income.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 2:14 p.m.

The Plymouth Road panels are adjacent to strip malls and offices. Quit your whining.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

Karen, get real. The panels are incredibly intrusive? I'm sorry, is your house located directly in the middle of North campus? Because that's what this article is primarily about. Your opinion is in the minority, please pipe down.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

Hey Bear. I don't know what part of Ann Arbor you live in but I can count on one finger the number of people over 50 that ride bikes unless they are teaching the grandkids how to do it. Enough already with this sustainability non-sense.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : noon

"Naturally, since she intends to do this whether or not we want it. Another totally unresponsive city official trying to ram an agenda down our throats." The city has little to say about what U of M does with their property. Get a clue. "Reminds me of the bicycle lanes for a city with an aging population that doesn't ride bicycles." I don't know what planet you live on, but I see grey-haired people riding bikes every day in Ann Arbor. Please do not proffer your opinion as fact.