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Issues of the Environment: A2 Area Commercial Solar Program to expand green energy to businesses in Washtenaw County

Julie Roth
Julie Roth
Julie Roth

Overview

  • The Ann Arbor 2030 District, in collaboration with the City’s Office of Sustainability and Innovations (OSI), has launched a new program designed to help commercial properties in Ann Arbor and throughout Washtenaw County to access the benefits of clean, renewable energy.
  • The new A2 Area Commercial Solar Program is open to businesses and property owners who are considering the environmental benefits and cost savings of going solar. 
  • Julie Roth, Senior Energy Analyst, Office of Sustainability & Innovations, says that investing in solar now will lead to long-term savings as the price of electricity increases, and it can also save money on short-term operations. 
  • Some benefits of the program include: 

    • screening properties for solar potential
    • help with requests for proposals to seek bids from qualified installers
    • support in reviewing proposals and financial benefits
    • help reviewing post-installation energy bills
  • The new program compliments the city’s Solarize program, which lowers the cost of solar through bulk buying discounts. It is part of Ann Arbor’s A2Zero carbon-neutrality plan for achieving a just transition to community-wide carbon neutrality by 2030.

A2 Area Commercial Solar Program

The Ann Arbor 2030 District, in collaboration with the City’s Office of Sustainability and Innovations (OSI), has launched a new program designed to help commercial properties in Ann Arbor and throughout Washtenaw County to access the benefits of clean, renewable energy.

The program provides one-on-one assistance to screen properties for solar potential, assistance with designing and releasing a Request for Proposals to install a renewable system, support reviewing proposal responses, and reviewing of post-installation energy bills.

The A2 Area Commercial Solar Program is open to businesses and property owners in Washtenaw County.The A2 Area Commercial Solar Program is a key component of the city’s A 2 ZERO carbon neutrality plan, which was unanimously adopted by Ann Arbor City Council June 1, 2020. To learn more about the city’s carbon neutrality work, visit  www.a2zero.org. (Source: *directly quoted* https://2030districts.org/annarbor/a2-area-commercial-solarize-landing/)

Local perspective - Cost savings case studies

The announcement gives some local perspective on this from Scio Township.

“With the inflation reduction act restoring the 30 percent tax credit and providing for direct pay for non-profits and municipalities, this program will provide the support needed for commercial buildings to invest in on-site renewable energy,” said Jan Culbertson, FAIA, Leadership Chair, Ann Arbor 2030 District.

The Scio Township fire station on Zeeb Road will soon be home to solar power.

“Scio Fire was one of the pilots for this program’s Request for Proposal Template. The support of the A2 2030 District gave our administration and Board of Trustees the confidence in our specifications, contractor qualifications and selection,” said Scio Township Fire Chief Andrew Houde. “We are looking forward to our upcoming installation.” (Source: *directly quoted* https://thesuntimesnews.com/g/dexter-mi/n/143582/new-commercial-solar-program-helps-washtenaw-county-businesses-access-clean)

Examples of buildings around the county that have installed large solar arrays with the help of A2Zero programs include:

  • FORD HOUSE – EDSEL & ELEANOR - On the roof of the Administration Building, a SunPower Helix Roof Dual-Tilt system can generate enough clean energy to handle all of the building’s needs. At nearly 150,000 kWh output per year, the system can also reduce approximately 101 metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere every year, roughly the same amount produced from fossil-fuel-generated electricity for 17 homes. The array is estimated to save $ 1.26M over 25 year system life. 
  • Solar + Storage at Bryant and Northside Community Centers, Ann Arbor - Headquartered in Ann Arbor, Homeland Solar has partnered with Community Action Network (CAN) and the City of Ann Arbor to bring energy resilience to two of our neighborhoods. The combination of solar– both rooftop and ground-mount - plus storage provides vital communications, heating, and refrigeration when the grid is down. Estimated savings: $196,000+ over 25-year system life.
  • Beverage Distributor - Commercial Solar Project - Beverage distributor operates a refrigerated warehouse/shipping facility in Washtenaw County. The building has a low-pitch, west-facing standing-seam steel roof. Primary loads are air conditioning and a large refrigeration unit. The DTE service is 208V, 3-phase. A 76.5 kW (DC) kW solar system was installed in Summer 2021. Savings: $289,000 over 25-year system life.
  • Zingerman’s Mail Order - Zingerman’s Mail Order operates a warehouse/packaging/shipping center in south Ann Arbor. The building has a low-pitch standing-seam steel roof. The ridge splits the building running north-south with east and west facing roof sections. The DTE service is 208V, 3-phase. A 181.2 kW solar system was installed in Fall 2020. System has been operating for 2 years and meeting performance metrics as presented in the Homeland Solar proposal. Savings: $654,000 over 25-year system life.

Mlive announcement and Zoom info session (held Feb. 28th)

The new A2 Area Commercial Solar Program is open to businesses and property owners looking to go solar for both financial and environmental reasons.

“Business and property owners need to know that financial investments made in their properties will result in real cost savings both in the short-term operations of the buildings, as well as significant long-term savings, especially as the cost of electricity continues to climb,” Julie Roth, senior energy analyst for the city, said in a statement.

The new program takes uncertainty out of the process for businesses, helping them obtain bids, evaluate bids and work with vetted contractors, Roth said.

The Ann Arbor 2030 District launched the program in collaboration with the city’s sustainability office. It provides one-on-one assistance to screen properties for solar potential, help with requests for proposals to seek bids from qualified installers, support in reviewing proposals and financial benefits, and help reviewing post-installation energy bills.

“With the Inflation Reduction Act restoring the 30% tax credit and providing for direct pay for non-profits and municipalities, this program will provide the support needed for commercial buildings to invest in onsite renewable energy,” Jan Culbertson, leadership chair of the Ann Arbor 2030 District, said in a statement.

Scio Township’s fire department was one of the pilots for the program’s request-for-proposals template.“The support of the A2 2030 District gave our administration and Board of Trustees the confidence in our specifications, contractor qualifications and selection,” Fire Chief Andrew Houde said in a statement. “We are looking forward to our upcoming installation.”

There will be a Zoom webinar from noon to 1 p.m. Feb. 28 to explain more about the program. Those interested can sign up to attend.

The new program is a key component of Ann Arbor’s A2Zero carbon-neutrality plan and complements the city’s existing Solarize program, which helps property owners get bulk purchase discounts on going solar. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2023/02/new-program-helps-washtenaw-county-businesses-realize-benefits-of-going-solar.html)

Other opportunities for solar and greening buildings in Washtenaw County

Businesses in Ann Arbor have numerous opportunities - and responsibilities - to improve our city's sustainability. Increasing sustainable practices is good for your business, good for our community, and good for the economy.  

Whether you own/operate a large industrial corporation or a small local boutique, there are many ways you can improve sustainability. Use the navigation below and to the left to find more information about sustainable business practices and learn how you can take steps to "green" your business!

If you own or manage a rental property, check out the Green Rental Housing for Landlords page to learn more about rental efficiency requirements.

Is your business required to report energy usage? Or do you already know and simply want to report your usage? Find out more under Commercial Benchmarking & Energy Performance Reporting

Consider joining the 2030 District,  a public/private partnership working towards a 50% reduction in existing building energy consumption, water use, and transportation emissions by 2030. You can find more information on the Ann Arbor 2030 District’s goals, resources, and membership on their website.

Interested in sustainability improvements for your house of worship or other non-profit? Check out the 2030 District's 2030 Houses of Worship & Non-Profits Green Team to find out how you can make energy improvements to your building, monitor your energy usage, save water, get solar power through the Solar Faithful program, and more!

Need help financing energy improvements on your property? Check out Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing options to finance your energy improvements through a special property assessment. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.a2gov.org/departments/sustainability/Sustainability-Me/Businesses/Pages/default.aspx)

Transcription

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and the push for carbon neutrality and a more sustainable future continues. I'm David Fair, and welcome to this week's edition of Issues of the Environment. With Ann Arbor's A2Zero plan, the city is planning to reach carbon neutrality by the year 2030. Now, a good deal of work has been done on pushing toward that end. Now there's a new program designed to help commercial properties in Ann Arbor better access the benefits of clean, renewable solar energy. The new A2 Area Commercial Solar Program is open to businesses and property owners who are considering the environmental benefits and cost savings of going solar. And our guest this morning is right in the thick of it. Julie Roth is a senior energy analyst at Ann Arbor's Office of Sustainability and Innovations. And thank you so much for making time for us today, Julie.

Julie Roth: I'm so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

David Fair: Well, solar is still, in the broad sense, not all that prevalent in the area for a variety of reasons. Do you have a sense of what percentage of the Ann Arbor area commercial properties are utilizing solar at this point?

Julie Roth: Well, that's a good question. I would say it's low--commercial properties using solar. But that gives us a lot of opportunity.

David Fair: And that's exactly what the conversation is about: opportunity. Your office is working in collaboration with the Ann Arbor 2030 district to put forth the A2 Area Commercial Solar Program. The 2030 district brings together property owners, local governments, businesses, and community stakeholders to work towards reducing environmental impacts, be it from building construction or operations. Clearly, the district is going to be a growing important component to the success of the A2Zero plan. Is there any way to gauge how much difference it's made to this point?

Julie Roth: That's a good question. The 2030 district is an incredible resource for communities all over the country. They have 2030 districts. The Ann Arbor 2030 district has helped numerous buildings with benchmarking their commercial benchmarking ordinance. They've helped them achieve that. They've helped them find ways to reduce energy usage and improve energy efficiency and electrify their buildings and weatherize and insulate and have linked them up with resources to help them do this and incentives. So, I don't know the numbers, but they're instrumental in helping us achieve our goals.

David Fair: So, as we look to those successes and the A2Zero plan, the A2 Area Commercial Solar Program is going to provide new opportunity for business and property owners. For those who are in those sectors, what exactly are you offering to assist with them?

Julie Roth: Yeah, great question. We're really excited about this program. Commercial businesses, when they're considering solar, have sort of a different set of barriers and questions than, say, a resident who is considering going solar. First off, they may or may not own their buildings. They have a financial bottom line that's incredibly important. The payback period, they need to understand when that is and how long it will take to pay back the solar. They need to understand how much their bills will be reduced by adopting solar, and they need to understand the viability of their roofs or their site for solar. And so, these are all the things that we are helping commercial businesses with, in addition to providing them with a template RSP, so they can access bids from qualified installers and help them understand those bids when they come in.

David Fair: Our Issues of the Environment conversation with Julie Roth from the Ann Arbor Office of Sustainability and Innovations continues on 89 one WEMU. Are we able to identify what buildings are most likely to be deemed appropriate for solar installation and which might be advised to actually not make the investment?

Julie Roth: That's a great question. Commercial buildings, oftentimes, are fantastic opportunities for solar. They oftentimes have big open roofs without a lot of shade. Commercial buildings that are more tall than wide may have less of a case for rooftop solar. But those that have some roof space are good. You can go to Google's Project Sunroof, whether you're a resident or a commercial business, and you can actually see the solar access of your roof over an annual period of time. The brighter yellow it shows, the more likely you are to be able to generate a lot of clean energy on your rooftop. It's a great, free resource.

David Fair: Is the commercial solar program offering any financial assistance or at least direction to where there may be credits or other deductions?

Julie Roth: Yeah, not direct financial assistance, although all these systems were providing is free. But we will help folks understand where the financial assistance is. There's a 30% federal tax credit for all entities to go solar now with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. And we also are going to be providing assistance after installation for commercial entities to evaluate their bill to make sure the production of their system is as expected and understand their utility bill, which gets pretty complicated, and then also help them one year out to be able to see what that last year has been like in terms of production and financial benefit.

David Fair: Obviously, if there wasn't going to be some cost benefits down the line, then the program wouldn't have been launched in the first place. Do we have an idea, based on either national or state studies, as to how much a business or commercial property owner might expect to save on energy costs with a solar installation?

Julie Roth: That's a great question. It's going to be very dependent on the commercial entity. You can imagine that some entities use a modest amount of energy, and others use a massive amount of energy. So, it really depends on how much energy you use and how much solar you build in order to offset that energy. But it can be pretty substantial. The residential solarize program that we've been running, which has helped over 500 people access solar at their residences, has saved community members approximately $1.7 million on the upfront cost of solar. But when you consider the energy cost savings over 25 years, which is the lifespan warranty, lifespan of solar, we're looking at $17 million that those 500 plus residents will be saving.

David Fair: And on those residents, what has been about the average before you become cost neutral there?

Julie Roth: So, in residences, it's somewhere between seven and 12 years to pay off this solar. It's less than that--substantially less than that--with businesses, both because you're having a lower cost for the solar, because larger systems cost less because of scale. And also, you can take depreciation in your business. So, you're looking at a much shorter timeline to pay off.

David Fair: Now you mentioned these have 25-year warranties, but the technology is improving year by year. If I pay to install today, am I going to be out-of-date and potentially not serviceable in 5 or 10 years?

Julie Roth: Oh, you'll definitely be serviceable. The only thing the main thing that's really changing is the panels are becoming more and more efficient over time. But waiting also means that you're not saving energy for those years that you're waiting. So, in general, doing it now is probably going to save you more money than waiting five years and doing it then.

David Fair: Once again, this is 89 one WEMU's Issues of the Environment, and we're talking about a new solar program for commercial properties. We have Ann Arbor senior energy analyst Julie Roth. Now, I'm curious. We saw what the ice storm did to the existing electric grids as operated by DTE Energy and Consumers Energy in the recent ice storm. What impacts will a storm like that have on a property owner, business or residential, who has moved to solar panels and relies on a solar array for energy?

Julie Roth: Great question, David. So, there are several layers to that. First of all, if you have solar on your roof and the power grid goes out, if you don't have a battery for backup, or a generator, for that matter, your power switches off as well. And there's a good reason for that, because if you're generating more energy than you're using at that moment, the excess energy flows out into the grid. And if the lines are live, you're putting energy into them. Then, the line workers trying to fix those lines are going to be injured. So, there's an emergency shutoff to your solar if the grid goes out. So, it doesn't work as backup power. If you have a battery, now you're talking about backup power and resilience. So, believe me, after the ice storm, my inbox is full of people that are now interested in solar and batteries because of resilience issues. So, in that case, when the big grid goes out, your excess energy can flow to your battery instead of going nowhere. You can't have excess energy going nowhere--bit of a fire hazard. So, it flows into your battery. What that means is that your solar panels can keep operating during a power outage, and you can use your backup battery when there's no sun.

David Fair: As the solar options expand and other measures are taken through the A2Zero initiative, and I know it's your job to help get this done, but how realistically optimistic are you that the city can achieve carbon neutrality by 2030?

Julie Roth: I am optimistic.

David Fair: That's what you told me the last time we talked about this. Yeah.

Julie Roth: We are sprinting at it. It's an audacious goal, but it's one that's also very much informed by science and the urgency of the moment. And I've never worked with a more committed and motivated group of people in my life. And if if all the stars align, as I hope that they will, I anticipate we will achieve our goal.

David Fair: Well, I like that no matter how long the distance between our conversations, your optimism only grows. Thank you so much for the time and the updates today, Julie. I appreciate it.

Julie Roth: Thank you for having me, David.

David Fair: That is Julie Roth, senior energy analyst at Ann Arbor's Office of Sustainability and Innovations, discussing the new A2 Area Commercial Solar Program. For more information on the program and how to get in touch, visit our website at WEMU dot org. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, and you hear it every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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