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Posted on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

New 2-acre solar panel field will be built off Fuller Road in Ann Arbor

By Kellie Woodhouse


Solar panels were installed off Plymouth Road this fall.

Joseph Tobianski |

Ann Arbor saw its first large solar panel installation recently, and officials say it's far from the last one that will alter the landscape of the area.

The University of Michigan — home to an array of 1,800 DTE Energy panels on Plymouth Road installed in fall — is planning to install another large array this spring.

That array will be on the school's north campus, near the architecture and engineering colleges, and will be visible from Fuller Road, said Terry Alexander, director of U-M's Office of Campus Sustainability. The installment is expected to be roughly the same size as the 2.4-acre Plymouth Road array.

Meanwhile, Matthew Naud, the environmental coordinator for Ann Arbor, says he expects the city, either alone or in partnership with another organization, to install its own large array "in the next year or so." Possible locations for such an installation, Naud said, include city-owned land near the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport and property near the landfill.


The 2.4-acre Plymouth Road array of solar modules was installed in the fall.

Joseph Tobianski |

The city already has small solar installations on the roof of Kerrytown Market, the Leslie Science and Nature Center, the newly constructed courts building and several fire stations. U-M has solar installations on the roof the School of Natural Resources building and atop a building near the school's central power plant, both on central campus.

Public forums would take place before any large installation.

The city is also planning to partner with Ann Arbor Public Schools and New York-based Wind Products Inc. on a potential $1.4 million wind energy project that would fund the installment of two large turbines.

Alternative energy is coming to Ann Arbor, but not without some controversy.

"People react to solar panels and wind turbines as they do to many new things: some love them, some hate them. They're new to the eye," said Mike Garfield, director of the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor.

The Plymouth Road installation generated a lot of feedback, with many Ann Arborites praising U-M for supporting solar energy while others criticized the university's approach to solar energy and the community and called the array an eyesore. Ward 2 Councilwoman Jane Lumm called the project "industrial" and "hideous."

"U of M is sending the message that solar is industrial, in-your-face, and ugly and we had just better get used to it," said Ann Arbor resident Dave Bizot.

Others disagreed.

"I think this is the most positive and appealing project either DTE or the [university] has created in years," offered Ann Arbor resident Sandra Awood.

Alexander said the visual impact of the Plymouth Road installation and planned array off Fuller Road will be mitigated with trees, shrubs and other landscaping. The solar panels installed over the spring will face Fuller Road, unlike the array near Plymouth.

Yet the arrays are strategically located so they can be seen.

"It's great that there's a visible solar project on site at the university. A lot of people coming to and from and through Ann Arbor will see it," Garfield said of the array on Plymouth. "I also think we're going to learn something from the reaction to it."

Added Alexander:

"It will grow on people. When I first saw it I had a reaction of 'Wow, that's big...' every time I drive by it, it looks smaller, so I am adjusting to it."

Concerns over the aesthetics of alternative energy installations, whether it be solar panels or wind turbines, are an ongoing aspect of proposals throughout the country.

"You kind of take the good and the bad, and know that you can't make everybody happy," Alexander said.

The planned array off Fuller Road will be installed on U-M land by DTE as part of the energy giant's Solar Currents program. The Plymouth Road project, which is also part of the program, generates enough electricity to power about 100 homes. DTE pays U-M $12,000 annually for the use of its land.

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

Nearby, the city of Ypsilanti is in the process of leasing 4.5 acres of its land for a solar installation. That installation, operated by SunDurance Energy, would net Ypsilanti a $44,000 annual payment. Ypsilanti is expected to be notified this week whether it was chosen for a "short list" for the DTE project.

According to DTE, solar panels are producing 949 kilowatts of energy in Ann Arbor. In addition to the Plymouth Road installation, which produces 430 kilowatts, there are 64 customer owned installations throughout Ann Arbor that produce 400 kilowatts of energy. Another 21 projects scattered throughout Ann Arbor bring the total to 949 kilowatts.

The lack of a public forum prior to the installation of panels on Plymouth Road upset several nearby homeowners.

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"The installation, which took place without direct communication ... has lead to resentment and anger toward the [university]," offered Ward 2 Councilwoman Sally Petersen. "The university could have enlisted the the Ward 2 City Council members, Jane Lumm and myself, to organize a neighborhood meeting during which the University of Michigan could present their plans and hear feedback from the neighboring community."

U-M's community relations director Jim Kosteva said officials haven't decided if there will be any public forum prior to the spring installation of solar panels off Fuller Road.

“I would just hope that there’d be more outreach and recognition when they do these sort of projects,” said Limm. “There is an impact on the adjacent neighborhoods.”

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

See a view of the panels driving down Plymouth Road:

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


Chris Snyder

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 7:48 a.m.

I've a sneaking suspicion, since it says the PV panels were DTE Energy's, that these at Plymouth Rd are the very same panels that were put into service decades ago when the Solar Currents Program was first started at the customers' demand. A few years ago DTE arbitrarily terminated Solar Currents and then tried to give away the PV panels that the customers had been paying for over decades to local schools. Unfortunately, none of the schools could afford to purchase the rest of the PV systems (mounting racks, inverters, etc), so there were no takers on the offer. This went on for a couple of years while the panels kept on generating power that DTE was no longer collecting a premium from its customers for the solar energy. It wouldn't surprise me if DTE figured out that they could give the PV panels to a university (UMIch) which would have the $ for the rest of the PV system equipment, and finally get some good PR out of them while disposing of them and getting a tax deduction for the gift.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 2:34 p.m.

Incorrect. Rely on facts; uninformed speculation is intellectually lazy.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 9:37 p.m.

This is another example of "feel-good" environmentalism. A large, destructive footprint to produce meager amounts of energy. At least it will not kill numerous birds as windmills are noted for.

Chris Snyder

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 7:59 a.m.

Since you are so concerned about bird deaths, have you boarded up all the windows on your house and put a bell on your cat? Windows on buildings cause a little less than half of all bird deaths, cars are farther down the list, cats are near the bottom with only a few percent, and windmills- generators are less than a half of one percent of all bird deaths. Oh, and have you seen the large destructive footprint of mountain top removal coal mining which is rapidly becoming the most common type of coal mining? Not only is there the scar of the cutting off of the mountain tops to get at the coal, but they dump everything they don't want into the valleys. And then their are the slurry dams that have burst and wiped out whole towns - fortunately for the coal companies, it is usually the homes of their own workers who are threatened or lost, so the people living there can't complain too loudly, or they'd lose their job as well as their home. I'll take PVs and windmills any day - and I do get my power from the ones in my back yard.


Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 12:55 a.m.

The problem with Garbage in / Garbage out energy policy we currently have. Solar Panels and Windmills require coal, oil, natural gas to manufacturer, ship and install. These solar panels will never produce enough energy than it did to produce them. THEY DO NOT AND WILL NEVER DISPLACE A BARREL OF OIL. Windmills have short term and long term costly maintenance issues. Installing mini power plants 300 feet in the air are inaccessible to service and repair for the little energy they produce. After about 10 to 15 years it will be so costly to repair that they will be ugly expensive reminders that 12 century technology cannot and will never power America in the 21st Century.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 2:32 p.m.

While they may not be the least cost option, wind and solar are able to generate much more energy than used in their fabrication and installation.


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 4:24 a.m.

I just drove by these panels today and I can see the objection that people have. Why not plant large shrubs and small trees (I know shade on the panels would defeat the purpose) in front of the panels, along the road? That would go a long way, in my humble opinion, to improve the look from the road.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 10:56 p.m.

i have to drive by the Plymouth Rd site every day. It is an eyesore. I'm sure they could have found a much better location, away from the road.

Hi McDonnough

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:24 p.m.

" According to DTE, solar panels are producing 949 kilowatts of energy in Ann Arbor." In 2008, the Ann Arbor community used 1,654,758 megawatt-hours (MWh).


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 8:53 p.m.

Is that before or after the SMART METERS?


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:18 p.m.

Remember all the hoopla over the ugly new cell phone tower at Domino Farms? You all managed to survive that visual armageddon. You shall survive this one too.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 7:39 p.m.

I hope "they" have done the study that will show that this array and its' reflections at various times of the year/day will not cause problems at the VA Hospital. I think they get it that the sun is powerful, hope they also understand how it works when you "aim" it at something.

Chris Hall

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 7:03 p.m.

Probably isn't cost-effective but we have to start somewhere. The original light bulbs were energy hogs, as were the first refrigerators. These solar panels aren't particularly efficient and cost a lot to make. But, if we keep installing, learning, re-engineering, etc. we'll eventually get to the point where it makes economical sense. If we don't install any at all due to the cost/benefit analysis, the engineering will stop and we'll never move off of fossil fuels. As for being an eye-sore? I don't know, I kind of like how they look. And, the closer they are to the point of use the more efficient they are . I won't mind if they build one across the street from me. They are silent and don't pollute at all (after they're manufactured), those are benefits I can live with.

Richard Carter

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:08 p.m.

So places with research missions should be the ones doing these loss leaders. If only there were some organization near the solar cells whose mission was research... like a University.

Real Life

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 7:03 p.m.

While they're at it, why not pass a law that we have longer sunlight and less clouds, in order to get some use out of these things. Now if the U of M were truly interested in generating energy, they'd find some of their land with fracking potential, poke a modest hole, make a lot of money and lower tuition to boot!

Nancy Shiffler

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:54 p.m.

Personally, I'll take solar panels over the oil wells being drilled in Lodi Township, the Irish Hills, and under schools in Adrian and Tecumseh -- not to mention the Enbridge tar sands pipeline now being constructed to cross under Ellsworth Road.

E. Manuel Goldstein

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:07 p.m.

As a northside Ann Arbor resident, I like what UM is doing with solar panel installations. Personally I think the Plymouth Rd panels look great, and that Jane Lumm and Sally Peterson are picking fly crap from pepper. Mr Ranzini, why don't you put your money where your mouth is and install solar panels on the roofs of all the University Banks, or how about University Bank offering low interest loans and/or special terms to homeowners who would like to finance solar PVs and solar hot water installations on their homes?

E. Manuel Goldstein

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:39 p.m.

That is a very good rate Mr Ranzini, and the fact that you look at alternative energy measures for your business is a plus. Thanks for your answer, it helps to know who the real community supporters are.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:20 p.m.

@E. Manuel Goldstein: we do offer residential loans with rates recently as low as 2.5% APY fixed for 15 years for any purpose, or 3.25% APY fixed for 30 years. Is that low enough for you? We only own one facility in Ann Arbor, the Mansion on Washtenaw Avenue, and have explored geothermal but cannot make the numbers work at that location. Solar won't work on the historic mansion's roof and would destroy the view of our lawn which is a key positive attribute of the historic mansion if we did a big installation in the front lawn.

Rita Mitchell

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:54 p.m.

I agree with those who support use of solar panels on rooftops or over parking areas, as preferred locations for solar panels. One big concern I have is cutting trees in order to place solar panels. It would be good to have a big-picture assessment of placement, that takes into account the benefits of trees for cleaning air and absorbing rainwater. I would like the city and the UM to use least-invasive approaches to placement of solar arrays, as evidence of using sustainable methods to implement alternative energy. Regarding the total cost of energy production: Fossil fuels are used to extract fossil fuels, and to create ethanol. Fossil fuel production has been "sustained" by subsidies for years.

Roger Kuhlman

Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 5:46 p.m.

Check the facts. Subsidies for fossil fuel production are minor and basically irrelevant compared to the subsidies solar and other alternative energy production gets. Fossil fuel production could continue unimpeded without any subsidies. Solar definitely could not. [Remember Solyndra! A fabulous success.]


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:27 p.m.

Does this make financial sense? Saving the planet is liberal gibberish, what is the Return on investment?

Ed Kimball

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 9:05 p.m.

Right. Saving the planet for our children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren clearly has no value to us!

J. Zarman

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:09 p.m.

The commenter who is in banking may want to chat with someone on staff at his bank who knows about land development laws and regulations. Assuming development generating $75,000 lease revenue per year, on the Plymouth Rd. site, is malarkey. It is highly suspect to assume rezoning for commercial use, sufficient to garner such revenues. Even so, the required setback waiver alone is unlikely ever to be granted at that site. The solar panel array makes good use of the setback. Perhaps not pretty, but functional, and good stewardship.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 2:03 a.m.

@ReverseDoubleBlumpkin: LOL & thanks! @J. Zarman wrote: "I question your unspoken assumption that the city would approve such striking changes in zoning for the truly campus-like former Pfizer property." Like installing a 2.4 acre industrial solar array without even a single permit required? But seriously, you don't think the city would have approved a lot split for the 2.4 acres if U-M asked for it? You do raise an excellent topic regarding zoning in that Ann Arbor's zoning appears to have a loophole and doesn't control this type of industrial project since no planning approval was required while almost everyone else in the world it would have an approval process. But the real genius of the project for DTE is that putting these installations on land owned by and leased from a non-profit saves DTE a lot of property taxes over 30 years, since non-profits don't pay any property taxes.

J. Zarman

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 7:33 p.m.

@S.L. Ranzini Sorry, but you entirely misunderstand my point. Land NORTH of Plymouth, were it available, would fit your scenario. It is already zoned for commercial/retail and lacks deep setback requirements. I question your unspoken assumption that the city would approve such striking changes in zoning for the truly campus-like former Pfizer property. Your implication that commercial buildings where the solar panels now stand also assumes setbacks of 40 feet rather than the current several hundred feet -- unlikely at best. Put these together, and the leasing potential of land on the south side of Plymouth falls far short of your scenario.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:32 p.m.

@J. Zarman: You actually believe that a 2.4 acre site at the corner of Plymouth Road and Huron Parkway is not worth $1.5 million, or $75,000 a year for a 30 year lease? $12,000 a year is certainly way too low. Do you own any valuable land on a major corner next to a major employer in town (in this case NCRC) that you'd like to sell or lease very cheaply for 1/10th it's value? If so, please do make me an offer and I'll come round with a check!


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:02 p.m.

Kellie, would you know if UM will be getting rebates for energy produced/used by these arrays? (i.e., will they be getting energy cost savings and how much per year) the article only talks about the money UM will be getting for the land itself.

Roger Kuhlman

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 3:57 p.m.

Nobody seems the least concerned about the most important aspect of this solar panel project which is that it probably costs $50,000 to produce $30,000 of energy. Shouldn't we be dealing with the real world of energy production and consumption when we are patting ourselves on the backs about our environmental progressiveness.

Richard Carter

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:04 p.m.

$30K over the lifetime of the cells?


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:10 p.m.

Nobody thinks about the fossil fuels needed to make solar panels, build the foundations, and clean the surfaces. Also, we fail to recognize that it takes fossil fuels to make the steel used in wind turbines! It is like the PETA folks who wear leather shoes, belts, and suede jackets! Rose colored glasses are so difficult to see through!


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:09 p.m.



Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 3:57 p.m.

The problem with any business case for solar or wind is that the total cost of fossil fuel generation, including negative externalities affecting the environment long or short term, is not considered. If it were, renewable energy would win. Kudos to UM and the city for taking the initiative, helping to safeguard the air we breathe, and making a positive statement.

Richard Carter

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:04 p.m.

The government has plenty of money for oil subsidies, apparently.

David Cahill

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 3:40 p.m.

After the SNUM's public relations disaster on Plymouth Road, it's nice to see that we have been given adequate notice of this new installation. Even the Sovereign Nation can exhibit learning behavior! I like the proposed new projects. The more solar, the better.

David Cahill

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:56 p.m.

Thanks, JRW! I call Jim Kosteva "Ambassador Kosteva" also. 8-)


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:19 p.m.

I love the SN analogy. I'm thinking of the Vatican in Rome.....hahahaha

Robert Granville

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 3:05 p.m.

I don't care where they are or what they look like. Build more. Across the street from my house if you want.... We need more solar.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:19 p.m.

must be renting.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:07 p.m.

Right on.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 3:01 p.m.

Wait till someone figures out (can you say government grant) that all of the animals and plants and bugs that need sunlight to live, that reside under these ugly things, are dying. Also, that projecting the suns warming rays away from the earth, alters our climate! Just love it when everyone jumps on board these new things like they are the great savior.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 8:46 p.m.

THis NEW thing been around for over 20-30 years it is JUST COMMING TO YOUR BACKYARD>

Richard Carter

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:03 p.m.

Well, since we're trapping heat with greenhouse gases, perhaps projecting it back away will counteract that. Also, look at the area of the Earth covered with solar cells. Look at the area covered with, oh, smokestacks, hot asphalt roofs, polluted retention ponds. Solar cells aren't going to add any significant impact any time soon.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:58 p.m.

One of the great things about solar power is that is can be delivered at point of use, without the need for wasteful cables, the risk of downed power lines, or unnecessary 'industrialization' of farm or urban land. This adverse publicity is the last thing we need for solar power. But UM and DTE could get the best of both worlds if they were to put the panels on top of a nearby parking lot, providing shade and shelter for the cars, plus a few power points for electric cars.


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

One of the articles indicated that installation over parking lots was rejected due to cost.

say it plain

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 6:56 p.m.

Aren't there giant parking lots right on the UM property where they instead used the lawn?!


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:43 p.m.

S_A2, I was thinking the same thing. Use all the giant parking lots around town to keep cars cool in summer and keep the lots from collecting all that heat during the day and releasing it at night.

Patricia Lesko

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:38 p.m.

"U-M's community relations director Jim Kosteva said officials haven't decided if there will be any public forum prior to the spring installation of solar panels off Fuller Road." Community relations director? What happened to the "Resolution of Cooperation" between the city and U of M that was written and championed by John Hieftje and Ward 1 Council member Sabra Briere? It was passed by Council amid much fanfare and duly delivered to someone at U of M, perhaps Mr. Kosteva. No doubt he dropped it quickly into the nearest circular file. Council members Sally Petersen and Jane Lumm are offering to do Kosteva's job for him, and his reply is arrogant and shows exactly why the city should develop a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program and implement it. Arrogance balanced by a yearly $10 Million dollar payment in lieu of property taxes would be slightly less galling.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:38 p.m.

I'm not that familiar with the Fuller Rd area that is campus property being considered for a solar array, but the area on the map off Fuller that is pinpointed in the article looks like a parking lot that I have driven past. What happens to those parking spaces if the solar array decreases the number of parking spaces? Why not build the solar array further outside of town, rather than force students and faculty to find even more limited parking close to UM buildings where they work and attend classes, or force them to take polluting buses from satellite parking lots. Here's a thought: build the solar panels near the satellite parking lots!

Soulful Adrenaline

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:42 p.m.

That's a perfect spot for the array.

Kyle Mattson

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:04 p.m.

Hi JRW- Kellie can probably add some more details, but per my knowledge of the site I would assume that the planels are being installed on the clearing behind that lot. That area is approximately 2 acres and on a hill which would position the south-facing panels maximum exposure for that spot. Check out this aerial view of the location to get a better view of what I mean:


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 3:25 p.m.

Why not put solar arrays over parking lots? Everyone would love covered parking. Sure it might take some engineering, but that's what UofM is known for right? We can then avoid cutting down trees for these large arrays.

Free Radical Scavenger

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:30 p.m.

Regarding solar panels mounted on rooftops: solar panels are perfect for mounting on the roofs of factories and warehouses. Not only do they produce electricity, but they reduce cooling costs by30% in the summer time.

Richard Carter

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8:01 p.m.

IF the roof is designed, or refitted, to handle them. I'm all for it, but that's an important point.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:24 p.m.

I support solar and wind energy sources, as long as the installations do not degrade the quality of life for nearby residents. The location of the large solar panel installations near the airport or landfill would not dramatically impinge on residential areas, as these locations are already outside of heavily residential areas, as long as the installations are isolated on large tracts of land. However, I have huge concerns about the installation of two wind turbines in the city, likely near one of the high schools. All three AAPS high schools are in residential areas and let me be clear, these turbines generate a LOT of noise when they are turning. Locating them near Huron HS, for example, which is across from Gallup Park, would not only create a lot of noise for nearby residential areas, but would also dramatically disrupt the bird population in the park, not to mention the loud noise that would be generated for visitors to the park. I have visited smaller cities in other states where these are installed, and they are definitely not something you want to live near. And they certainly don't belong adjacent to widely used parkland by a beautiful river. I would personally never live near one of them, and that kind of installation would most certainly decrease nearby property values. All three high schools are in residential areas. The fact that AAPS has not released the location of the turbines is already a problem. They need to make the locations public so there can be public response BEFORE installations begin. And of course, UM "hasn't decided" if there will be a public forum about panels installed off Fuller Rd. As many posters have stated in other articles related to this, UM does what it wants, where it wants, and gets exemptions from the city on ordinances. Any public forum will not have any impact on what UM decides to do.


Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 2:20 p.m.

Wind turbine blade tip speed can exceed 200 mph. Bats and migratory birds are impacted. (Bats are injured by low pressure air in the wake of the blade; bird injury comes from direct impact). The impacts need to be considered in siting the installations and should be considered when evaluating the environmental effects, positive or negative, of the installation.

Chris Snyder

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 8:34 a.m.

I disagree that windmills disrupt the birds lives around the windmills, especially if they are utility scale, which have blades that turn much slower than residential sized turbines. I've watched swallows flying back and forth through the swept area of utility scale windmills chasing insects - the blades are so slow that you or I could probably run through them like kids playing jump rope if the blades came that close to the ground. Wind generators only account for 1/2% of all bird deaths, as opposed to windows in buildings that account for nearly half of all bird deaths, yet you never hear people saying we should ban windows on buildings. I, too, have stood near the base of utility scale windmills on a windy day, and the wind (and the trees) were making far more noise than the blades did. I would choose to live right under a utility scale windmill if that meant I could get my power from it - I find them to be beautiful kinetic scuplture. Now a coal fired power plant or a nuclear power plant - there is a bad neighbor for you. It might take the nuke a while to manifest its problems, but when it does get so old that it needs decommisionning, you don't want to be near it. That's the beauty of most renewable energy systems, you can live right next to them without harm. And I also love the appearance of my PV panels - they are an iridescent blue crystalline pattern (polycrystalline cells) that your eyes can get lost in like a burning fire.

Richard Carter

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 8 p.m.

Ahh, the peace and quiet of the high schools... especially when the loudspeakers at the football games can be heard for a mile.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:17 p.m.

I haven't read this book but it might be interesting in this context. "Green Illusions" questions some of the environmental benefits of solar and wind energy


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:25 p.m.

Says "might be" interesting. Can you disagree with that?

Jonathan Blutarsky

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 3:10 p.m.

If you haven't read it how would you know if its relevant?


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:15 p.m.

The main reason these solar arrays are being placed on land like this, and not rooftops, is the ease of installation, and therefore the low cost of installation. One cannot just screw a bunch of solar panel mounts to any rooftop, especially if it is a flat or membrane rooftop. There needs to be planning during construction or re-roofing to place the correct fastening structures, otherwise you have a leaky roof, potential damage from weight or wind shear, etc. I would love to see them on all the rooftops of new commercial construction, I love it even more if city code required it of the new monster high-rises; what better place to put them than 14 stories in the air. Make the out-of-town developers pay for our greening, it is the least they can do to make up for the fouling of our skyline.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:01 p.m.

Your entry is the best I've read so far. I do so wish new developers would be required to have solar panels on their rooftops. For that matter, I wish new homes had to be built with them, too.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

I think that should be wind lift, not shear, but you get the picture...


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:46 p.m.

thank goodness these panels are not being placed on rooftops - we really need to keep rooftops pristine and aesthetic. much better to have solar panels at ground level and in your face, to remind us that these are solar panels. shrubs can cure anything.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:45 p.m.

There's no better place for these things than the City of Ann Arbor. I welcome all of them.

Kai Petainen

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:31 p.m.

cool stuff! i'm not opposed.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:21 p.m.

U of M: Either buying up the land and taking it off the tax rolls or uglying up the land for everybody.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:41 p.m.

You are free to outbid the University on the land and then create businesses and jobs at these locations.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:20 p.m.

Why is the U and not the city landing these deals? The U gets acres of solar panels and we're getting maybe two "monument to alternative enerty" windmills? We have a big greenbelt that would be perfect for this stuff. I don't need it "in my face" and it doesn't work any better there than in a less obtrusive environment.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:15 p.m.

Look at the Emperor's new clothes!!!


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:14 p.m.

What a waste of two acres.

Richard Carter

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 7:58 p.m.

Or put a drugstore or a bank there, because there aren't enough of them.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:40 p.m.

Yeah, they should have left them empty like they were before.

music to my ear

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 12:50 p.m.

ok go ahead,but to partner with New York wind products. do we not have any companies in Mich, we need to keep it local ,whats all these pure Mich commercials.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 12:41 p.m.

One of the poll questions should be, "The university should seek public input on the proposed design and location of the array before moving forward."


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:40 p.m.

Yeah so all the NIMBY's can try to block what the University can do with its own land.

Kellie Woodhouse

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 12:55 p.m.

Thanks for the idea, I'll try to incorporate that in a future article.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 11:58 a.m.

Pretty amazing how a school that says they have to continually increase the tuition never has a shortage of money for anything that even sounds green. Doesn't matter if these installations still are not cost efficient, they sound green and give people like Colemand the warm and fuzzy feeling they crave. Who care how much it costs when somebody else is paying for it.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:31 p.m.

Facts: get them before you open your mouth.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 12:42 p.m.

They're DTE's panels. DTE is paying rent to UM for the land.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 11:43 a.m.

The Ypsilanti solar array is being built on top of a closed municipal dump (kudos to Ypsilanti and DTE for such a creative reuse!), which is land that cannot really ever be used for much of anything. The Plymouth Road solar array land is being leased for $10,000 a year despite being a prime corner location that could easily command $1.5 million or more if developed, and depending upon the credit quality of a long term tenant, could command an annual lease rate of $75,000 to $150,000. The Fuller Road solar array location is also on prime land, just down the road from what will soon be a stop on a high speed rail line and both the VA and U-M Hospitals. Again, the land if developed would be worth millions of dollars (and perhaps $10 million to $20 million if a medical office 10-14 story building were built there) and command over $100,000 a year in rent on a 30 year lease, like what DTE is getting. To put this in perspective, our bank just sold 42 acres of land just west of town in Scio Township for $7,500 an acre. Ann Arbor land in the core is extremely valuable and land outside of town is worth very little. Why not put solar arrays on the lowest value land with good access to sunlight? So why is U-M leasing these parcels of prime development land in central Ann Arbor for 30 years to DTE for $5,000 an acre?

Richard Carter

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 7:57 p.m.

Part of it may just be that U-M considers it part of their Sustainability goals so are, in part, paying for those goals with reduced lease income. I'm sure a lot of campus buildings used for education or other U-M goals could be torn down and stores put in for greater profit to the "U," but that's not their main mission.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:06 p.m.

I'm guessing, as others have here, that the University just has no plans to develop that land for the next 5 years after that they can kick DTE off and develop it then if they want. They're making money on what would otherwise cost them lawn-cutting and landscaping fees. Seems smart to me. DTE probably wouldn't pay more, so UM got what they could.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:54 p.m.

@Kellie Woodhouse: Sorry the $10,000 number was from memory. The Plymouth Road project sits on 2.4 acres so it is $5,000 an acre, and that was the number that stuck in my head, since it was so amazingly low for such prime real estate. Thanks for pointing out my error. @Brad: a 30 year lease is about the same as a sale. The land is encumbered for a long time and not available to U-M for any other purpose until the end of the lease. You can't just pick up and move a $17 million power plant of this type either without huge expense. @ahi: You are correct, access to the electric network is important for site selection for these projects. There is a lot of land out in the townships near high tension power lines that is worth almost nothing that could be used just as well. I suspect the true benfit for DTE here is that Ann Arbor's zoning has a loophole and doesn't control this type of project since no planning approval was required while almost everyone else in the world it would have an approval process. Also, putting these installations on land owned by and leased from a non-profit saves DTE a lot of property taxes, since non-profits don't pay property taxes.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2:38 p.m.

Maybe the University isn't so laser focused on making a buck as the rest of the country seems to be. Also, leasing the land is different from developing the land. The University owns land that it holds in reserve. If you develop it - it is essentially gone. Removal of existing buildings is prohibitively expensive and the University would have sunk costs that it would be hard to justify having spent . If you put solar panels on it you have the option of removing them easily at some future point (i.e. for expansion of North Campus).


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:29 p.m.

Just a guess, but hooking up to the grid may be a significant cost. The Plymouth Road and Fuller Road arrays are likely much easier to tie into the grid than farmland out in Scio Township. Same with Ypsi dump since it's directly adjacent to 94.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:09 p.m.

I think Stephen is totally on to something here. Just look at all of the empty land UofM has in the center of the Diag. They could totally lease it to McDonalds and make tons of money! Why hasn't anyone thought of this brilliant idea before?

Kellie Woodhouse

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 12:52 p.m.

I was told by the university that the lease on Plymouth Road was for $12,000 a year, plus an additional $12,000 during initial construction. I was also told by Terry Alexander that the panels are placed on land not earmarked for future construction.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 12:42 p.m.

I don't claim to know anything about any of this, but it seems to me that the placement of these solar arrays in such prime locations speaks volumes about the importance of a commitment to alternative energy. The conversations--such as this one--generated by giving these installments such prominent locations are invaluable. I just saw the Plymouth Road installation for the first time this week and did think it was kind of "in your face," but sometimes provocative is okay in the service of the larger cause. I agree, however, that locations such as the one that you mention in Ypsi are ideal for future installations.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 11:42 a.m.

I was pleased to see a public institution make a move towards sustainability. I am sure this will spur some businesses and home owners to do the same.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 11:41 a.m.

instillations? It would be interesting to see a full financial statement for these installations including how much the federal and/or state governments are subsidizing or providing tax breaks. DTE is motivated to do these installations because they have a requirement to have x% of their generation from wind and solar by a certain date, whether it makes financial sense or not.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:59 p.m.

Except that we NEED the oil to survive at this point in time, so there's no real option or choice. We either need to pump more of our own domestic oil (e.g. open ANWR, pump more from the gulf and Frack more) or wait until there is enough renewable energy in place to cover what the oil and gas currently does. That should be in approximately 150 years (assuming we don't go nuclear, which we should).

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

@A2comments: If we charged the full cost of protecting the oil supplies in the Middle East, currently running over $600 billion a year for our military budget, to the cost of every barrel of oil imported into the U.S., we'd actually see how much the oil economy is subsidized! Solar power and other renewables make a lot of sense. Our current national energy and defense policy does not!


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 1:25 p.m.

It would also be interesting to see full financial statements for the subsidies involving our coal, oil, and natural gas energy production. Maybe try to account for associated public health costs as well.

Kellie Woodhouse

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 12:57 p.m.

I agree. These are breakdowns we're requesting.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 11:37 a.m.

Finally a step into the modern era. Solar panels need to be more accessible to everyone. I wonder how that would go over at my association meeting if I proposed we all get them on the roof? I think it would be cool, but some people just don't like progress.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 11:19 a.m.

Are all these solar panels coming from the USA or China?

music to my ear

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 12:53 p.m.

and they want to use an out side of mi company to do them.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 11:15 a.m.

$5,000 an acre for a long term lease on prime land in Ann Arbor versus $10,000 an acre for marginal land in Ypsilanti? Isn't whomever is negotiating these leases for U-M leaving a lot of money on the table?

Jake C

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 : 7:29 p.m.

Sandra: Cost, primarily. It takes a lot of extra money to just get solar panels installed on a 10-story roof, let alone maintain them. Also creates additional problems like making sure it doesn't cause roof leaks, that they don't fly away during storms, and that the roofs are actually rated for the extra weight. Installing in an otherwise empty grass field is a heck of a lot easier & cheaper.

Sandra Samons

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 5:50 p.m.

Why can't these solar panels be placed on the roofs of U of M buildings, where they won't take up land space and create eyesores? Surely at least some of them could be placed better than they are. I'm all in favor of using solar power, but common sense and esthetic sense, please!


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:47 p.m.

If they lease it they have a sustainable 100% long term expense deduction plus they don't have to pay any property taxes. There are advantages to leasing vs buying in certain circumstances.

J. Zarman

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:30 p.m.

Good point. I wonder what accounts for the difference in these two amounts.


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 4:03 p.m.

Why do you hate Ann Arbor so much?


Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 3:11 p.m.

and THIS is why I'm voting for you for major. You actually think about stuff. I like a thinker. Been a long time since one of those was mayor.