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September 11, 2013

MI Solar Works program brings solar panels to Ferndale

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

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Ferndale was selected as a pilot community for the MI Solar Works program. Residents will have an opportunity to learn more about solar panels on rooftops as an alternative option for energy for their households.

FERNDALE — Ferndale was selected this month as a pilot community for the MI Solar Works program, which aims to install solar panels on rooftops as an alternative to a home’s energy source.

MI Solar Works was created by WARM Training Center, a Detroit-based nonprofit organization aiming to bring energy alternatives to Michigan, along with SRIenergy. Joel Howrani Heeres, a sustainable communities coordinator with WARM, said the goal is to get 6,000 solar rooftops in Michigan by the end of 2014.

The U.S. Department of Energy created the “Race to the Rooftops” initiative to encourage the solar industry to expand, Heeres said, and the pilot program in Ferndale, along with Royal Oak and Ypsilanti, is a step in that direction. The program has also been used in Detroit and Ann Arbor.

“There was a fair amount of interest around renewable energy, and people in Ferndale wanted to generate clean energy on their rooftops,” Heeres said. “The main objective is to use coordinated strategies to drive down the cost of solar energy, and we have a great plan with this program.”

Heeres said for a community to become a pilot community, they needed an interested group of residents, with Ferndale having 25 people sign up to be involved so far. The goal is to get 100 people. WARM and SRIenergy will come into the community and help educate residents and city officials, while offering help with installing solar panels.

The main solar system through MI Solar Works is a 5-kilowatt system using 18 panels to produce energy. The system has the cost down to $3 per installed watt of solar power production, which is lower than the typical cost of $7 per installed watt of solar power production.

“The solar panels are connected to the electrical panel in your home, so whatever excess energy the panels produce goes to the meters and you get credit, or use it at night,” Heeres said. “The system we have, it generates about $75 a month in electrical cost (to the homeowner). It’s not battery powered, but on the grid, so we save on costs there, as well.”

Joseph Gacioch, chief innovation officer for Ferndale, said the Ferndale Environmental Sustainability Commission helped bring MI Solar Works into the community, and he feels it is a program residents will latch on to.

“We had an energy-efficiency program piloted here in Ferndale that we brought back last year, so we have a track record in Ferndale that proves we are a top performer and we are an engaged community,” Gacioch said. “Plus, having this program here, it tells people we are a progressive community and we support new technology. That is attractive to new residents, like recent college graduates, who are attracted to progressive communities who do support different ways of doing things.”

Gacioch said the MI Solar Works program not only supports local Michigan businesses, but it also encourages a competitive market.

“I think this program will provide and achieve its objectives for those in the industry to provide alternative forms of energy to the communities,” he said. “For us, we like to support our local economy, and the system is manufactured in the state, so we are always behind a program like that.”

Once the solar panel system is installed, Heeres said there are no other costs associated with the system. There is little maintenance involved, he added, and the panels are guaranteed for 25 years on parts and labor.

Besides getting a 30 percent federal tax credit for installing the system, Heeres said the system also minimizes energy increases over time.

“The great thing about this program is it essentially locks in your electrical rates for 30 years once installed,” he said. “Whatever you generate on your rooftop, you get that electricity for free, and you protect yourself from increased rates. It’s a great way to reduce monthly costs, plus it’s a great way to reduce your environmental impact — your carbon footprint.”

For more information on the MI Solar Works program, visit www.warmtraining.org/solar or email solar@warmtraining.org.