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#OTGYpsi: Free Solar Power For Area Nonprofits And Churches

Thanks to an anonymous donor and facilitation by local grassroots organization SolarYpsi, several churches and nonprofits in Ypsilanti have received or will soon receive new solar installations.

WEMU's Lisa Barry and Sarah Rigg from Concentrate Media talk with Dave Strenski from SolarYpsi about the impact that is having on the Ypsilanti area community.


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Solar Moonshot Program funds numerous solar installations for Ypsi nonprofits and churches


Hamilton Climate Solutions

Solar Moonshot

Riverside Arts Center

Growing Hope



Lisa Barry: [00:00:00] You're listening to 891 WEMU. This is On the Ground Ypsi, our weekly conversation about the online Concentrate Media article from this week. I'm Lisa Barry, and we're joined by On the Ground Ypsi project manager Sarah Rigg here to talk to us about one of her stories this week. And it looks like we're talking about solar power in the Ypsilanti area, Sarah?

Sarah Rigg: [00:00:22] Yes, that's right. So I've written about SolarYpsi and about solar power in general in Ypsilanti before. But we have a story this week about a number of solar projects going on, due to a really cool grant funding opportunity. And I brought with me Dave Strenski, who is the founder of a grassroots organization in Ypsilanti called SolarYpsi.

Lisa Barry: [00:00:44] Hi, Dave. Thanks for joining us.

Dave Strenski: [00:00:46] Hello. It's a pleasure to be here.

Lisa Barry: [00:00:48] Solar Moonshot is what the program is called, I believe. Who wants to tell us what that's about?

Dave Strenski: [00:00:54] I can start there. So, actually, this started about a year ago when I got a cold email from a person out in California, who was actually initially trying to put solar in all 50 states. And he asked if I could help put one in Michigan. And I said, "No problem." And I hooked him up with our local Second Baptist church and talked to the church, got them introduced to the Solar Moonshot people, and they funded a 10 kilowatt installation on that roof. And then because he was trying to get one in all 50 states, I have a brother in Illinois, and I helped him put one there. And then my friend Steve Pearce in town--he helped them put one in Albuquerque. And then, this year, rolled around and I sent the guy an email and said, "Got any more money?" And he said, "Sure." And then they kind of like formalized the program. They made a website. It's Solar Moonshot Dot Org. And it's a very simple application--about four pages. It takes--I got it down to about 15 minutes now--to submit an application, request funds for a different project. And so, I started with Growing Hope, and they got approved. And so I said, "Well, what if we submitted another one?" And so then I did Riverside Arts and I'm working with the organizations, right? So I call up the nonprofit, look at their electric bills, hook up with a contractor who could give us a quote for that project. And then I walked the nonprofit through this application process.

Lisa Barry: [00:02:20] Let's go back to the beginning. You say you got a cold call, so you weren't looking for this. Somebody came to you being with SolarYpsi and said, "Hey, we got this great idea for free. We're going to give people solar power."

Dave Strenski: [00:02:31] Yeah, it's not that odd because I actually get cold emails every day. Every day, there's somebody who's sending me an email who I have no idea who they are and they're either asking for information or a contractor. They have a problem. It's amazing the number of emails I get, and I try to just answer them all. And this one happened to be a good one to answer.

Lisa Barry: [00:02:54] So, they’re providing solar power for free for nonprofits?

Dave Strenski: [00:02:59] Yes. So, the program has kind of changed. I think we've been a little too successful. So, initially, they weren't asking for any matching funds. They just wanted a good project. And for what I learned last year, the thing that they seem to be most concerned about was, like, speed and the cost, so I think it's just the philanthropist who is just trying to get as many panels up on the roofs, if possible. And that's exactly what I'm trying to do. I'm just trying to get panels on roofs. So, I would find nonprofits, make sure they were OK with it. And then I've been working with Distributed Power mostly. I've worked with a couple of different ones, but I hooked up with Distributed Power and said, "Hey, if I get multiple projects going, will you give me a little better price? And they're all in Ypsi." And he said, "Yeah." So we have a really streamlined process now I get the nonprofit interested. We get a quote from Distributed, and then we submit the application. So, initially, there was no match, and we got five projects approved and those were Growing Hope, Riverside Arts. Ypsilanti Housing Commission, Metropolitan Memorial Baptist Church and HighScope. And then I started submitting even more, and I think I had another six or so in the queue and they said, "Hey, hold on a second now. Let's change the rules a little bit." And so, now they were looking for matching funds, but I've been able now to be able to find matching funds or the nonprofits have been able to find matching funds. And so, I think we have another six that might get approved or, at least, they're in the works.

Lisa Barry: [00:04:25] How enthusiastic have these recipients of this basically free solar power installation been? Has anyone said, "Eh, no thanks," or is everyone very excited about it?

Dave Strenski: [00:04:35] Interestingly, a couple have said "No thanks" for a variety of reasons. I actually think there are good reasons I won't call them out, but some organizations are actually quite large, you know, multi-million dollar budgets, and they have limited staff. And so, this is like a twenty five thousand dollar grant, and they would love to go for it, but they just don't have the available cycles to put towards the project.

Lisa Barry: [00:04:59] Are there any architectural concerns?

Dave Strenski: [00:05:02] Well, there was another nonprofit who says, you know, "We might be moving in a year." Other nonprofits say, "Well, we're going to be replacing our roof in a year." And so that's kind of the typical reasons why they're not interested.

Lisa Barry: [00:05:14] Sarah, who else did you talk to for this week's article?

Sarah Rigg: [00:05:17] Dr. Barry LaRue, because he was involved in three different projects. He was involved in the Riverside Arts Center one. And then two other ones that are in process that may or may not get funded, but have been applied for: the Highland Cemetery and First United Methodist Church. And he was saying that the historic commission in Ypsilanti is generally favorable to solar installations, but they're really happy if it doesn't have a visual impact on the building. And so, like Riverside, you know, they were perfectly happy to have a solar installation there because there's a parapet on the top of the roof. And so, you can't see the installation at all from the street. I talked to Cynthia VanRenterghem, who is the executive director of Growing Hope, and she was saying it had been, you know, like a 10 year dream of Growing Hope to put solar on their farmhouse that they use as their administrative offices. They have a small solar installation down at their Tuesday market location, but they'd always wanted to do their offices and just hadn't been able to find a grant or, you know, the right opportunity to fund it. So, they were just really thrilled. And they think they will be covering not only all of their electrical costs, but putting energy back into the grid. And then I talked briefly to Brad Rushlow from HighScope. They are actually, I think if I'm not mistaken, putting in the installation this week. I think they started last week and are maybe going into this week. They were pretty excited, not only for the energy savings, but they have a teaching preschool there. And so, the kids will get to learn about, you know, sustainable energy as well from that. So, yeah, this is such a cool opportunity for Ypsilanti.

Lisa Barry: [00:06:55] I believe someone from Growing Hope called Dave Strenski a “solar hero.” How do you feel about that, Dave?

Dave Strenski: [00:07:02] I'm just having fun. I don't get paid. This is a volunteer kind of operation. You know, people think that SolarYpsi is some big organization. We're not even incorporated. We're not a 501 C-3. So it's interesting. I can't even take the money. So kind of my goal in life is to just kind of pair up donors with non-profits and make it happen.

Lisa Barry: [00:07:24] Yet, there are benefits to the environment, and there must be financial benefits to these people who say yes to solar.

Dave Strenski: [00:07:32] Yes. And actually, that's one of the things that's really been motivating me lately is more like in the Ward One district of Ypsilanti. I've been talking with some churches down there, and that group just aren't as in tune with solar power. So, they would have never seen this. And, for me to bring it in, and it actually was quite a chore to convince them because, you know, you're going to, what, give me free money? And they just couldn't believe it. And so, I really walk them through the process says, "No, no, we've done this for than four times before. There's no strings attached, and it's just going to happen." So, they can't believe it.

Lisa Barry: [00:08:10] The program is called Solar Moonshot. Dave Strenski from SolarYpsi. Sarah Rigg, always good to talk to you as well for On the Ground Ypsi here on Eighty-Nine one WEMU.

Sarah Rigg: [00:08:20] Thanks, Lisa.

Dave Strenski: [00:00:00] Thank you.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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