Installation was completed this week on a rooftop solar array for the historic Michigan Theater in downtown Ann Arbor. The 3-kilowatt (KW) system is expected to generate enough electricity to power the signature marquee lights on East Liberty Street after the current incandescent bulbs are replaced with warm light-emitting diode (LED) lamps.
Michigan Theater’s solar array, which is positioned to take advantage of their rooftop’s direct solar access and minimal shading, is the first renewable energy installation undertaken by XSeed Energy, an implementing body of the Ann Arbor Solar Plan. Clean Energy Coalition administers the XSeed Energy project after having developed the Plan in partnership with the City of Ann Arbor with initial seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar America Cities program.
Now independent of any government support, XSeed is fulfilling its mission to catalyze solar development in the Ann Arbor area by enabling community members to 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.
“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,” said Sean Reed, Clean Energy Coalition Executive Director. “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.”
Long considered cost prohibitive, solar arrays are becoming more accessible due to recent technology innovations and increased demand that have resulted in sharply decreasing hardware costs. “Prices for even small installations like the array at 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. He added that federal tax credits and other incentives can shorten this payback.
Alongside the panel installation, the marquee lights will be replaced with specialty LEDs designed to use 90-95 percent less energy than the existing incandescent bulbs.
“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, Michigan Theater Executive Director. “All these cost savings can then be reinvested in the programs theater patrons want to see.”
Michigan Theater has agreed to invest the energy savings experienced through the XSeed project in 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 continued. 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 http://xseedenergy.org.
XSeed is funded by generous individual contributions as well as financial and in-kind support provided by the following businesses and organizations: U.S. Department of Energy, City of Ann Arbor, Clean Energy Coalition, Google-Ann Arbor, JC Beal Construction, The Green Panel, Chelsea Lumber, Planet Footprint, McNaughton-McKay, Fitzpatrick Structural Engineering, Meadowlark Energy, Domino’s Farms, Homeland Builders, Solar World, Patriot, Renovo, Bank of Ann Arbor, and First Martin.