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Posted on Wed, Sep 11, 2013 : 2:30 p.m.

Michigan Theater marquee to run on sun power

By Jenn McKee


The solar array being installed on the Michigan Theater's roof this week. The power generated by the array will light up the theater's marquee.

Melanie Maxwell | The Ann Arbor News

Here comes the sun-powered Michigan Theater marquee - and it's all right.

Yes, installation of a rooftop solar array - an electrical device made up of connected solar cells - should be completed this week at Ann Arbor's historic Michigan Theater. Once the system is in place and operational, it should generate enough electricity to power the marquee, after its incandescent bulbs are replaced with light-emitting diode (LED) lamps.

The theater's solar array marks the first renewable energy installation undertaken by XSeed Energy, the implementing body of the Ann Arbor Solar Plan. Initial seed funding for the XSeed Energy came from the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar America Cities program, and Xseed resulted from a partnership between the Clean Energy Coalition and the City of Ann Arbor.

XSeed is now "independent of any government support," according to a press release, and aims to help community members "support and install renewable energy systems. XSeed Energy pays the upfront cost of the solar installation, while the host site pays a fixed energy cost that results in immediate and growing long term savings."

Sean Reed, Clean Energy Coalition executive director, said in a press release, "The Michigan Theater is the perfect spot for our first installation because of its prominent location, and the potential for residents and visitors to become aware of the project. As a beloved historic building located in the heart of Ann Arbor, it is an ideal choice to showcase the value and accessibility of solar power."


Workers install a solar array on the Michigan Theater's roof.

Melanie Maxwell | The Ann Arbor News

Though solar energy options have, in the past, been cost-prohibitive, increased demand and techological innovation have reportedly brought hardware costs down. "Prices for even small installations like the array at the Michigan Theater are now falling close to $3 per watt, which is about half the cost of similar installations four years ago. This low cost means that the return on investment has dropped to less than 15 years on panels that typically have a 25-year warranty," said Dave Friedrichs of Homeland Builders, installation contractor for this project, in a press release. Federal tax credits and other incentives can also shorten this payback.

In addition, the LEDs that will replace the marquee's incandescent bulbs should use 90-95 percent less energy.

"The advantages of LED lamps aren't limited to energy savings alone. With LEDs lasting more than 10 times longer than our existing bulbs, we'll significantly reduce our maintenance costs and divert more than 12,000 lamps from our landfill," said Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater, in a press release. "All these cost savings can then be reinvested in the programs theater patrons want to see."

The Michigan Theater plans to invest energy savings from the marquee into other energy efficiency improvements across the theater, including the replacement of most interior and exterior lighting with energy-efficient alternatives.

"We hope the Michigan Theater is just the first of many community-funded solar power projects across the Ann Arbor area," Reed said in a press release.

Clean Energy Coalition will continue to "seed" renewable energy projects through the XSeed initiative, using community donations and organizational support. Tax-deductible contributions can be made directly toward the Michigan Theater solar array or to XSeed Energy’s future projects via a secure donation link at

Jenn McKee is an entertainment reporter for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.