With firehouse solar installation, Ypsi continues rise as national solar power leader

Ypsilanti has become a solar leader in the last decade, going from no solar energy production to one megawatt and rising.


The most recent project that put the city over the one-megawatt mark was a 50-kilowatt solar installation on the roof of Ypsi's fire station, completed in April with a mix of volunteer and professional labor and a combination of city and private funds.


With the new installation, Ypsi now narrowly beats out San Francisco for the 17th highest solar production per capita nationwide, according to statistics compiled by Environment America. Ypsi has the highest solar production per capita in Michigan by far.


Independent power producer Chart House Energy worked with advocacy group SolarYpsi on the firehouse project, taking unique advantage of tax credits in the process. Nonprofits and municipalities don't pay taxes and therefore can't take advantage of tax credits, so Chart House Energy owns the equipment and will lease it to the city for six years. At that time, the city will buy the equipment from Chart House at fair market value.


Chart House president Rob Rafson says there will continue to be a disparity between Ypsi and Ann Arbor in terms of solar power production even though Ann Arbor is a bigger city with a "green" reputation. That's due to the fact that some municipalities (like Ypsi) consider solar installations industrial property and don't tax them, while others (like Ann Arbor) consider them personal property and tax installations at a high rate.


"There is legislation being written, and they're looking for a sponsor, to correct that inconsistency in the application of personal property tax rules," Rafson says.


In the shorter term, the city of Ypsi expects to make back the $31,000 it invested in the fire station project, because the solar installation is expected to provide about 70 percent of the energy the station needs.


As the federal government is pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement and scaling down the Environmental Protection Agency, Rafson says projects like the Ypsi fire station and conversations about renewable energy are more important than ever.


"Some studies show that government and utility installations will help us achieve about half of what we need (to mitigate global climate change), but the rest of us need to do the rest of the work," Rafson says. "In addition to these kinds of installations, we need to put in LED lights, turn off switches, and develop more energy-efficient habits, because if we don't, devastating things will be happening in the world."


In other sustainable energy news for Ypsi, Eastern Michigan University recently announced the installation of a 55-ton turbine in its heating plant, allowing the university to be nearly 100 percent self-sufficient in producing heat and power.


A more detailed account of the fire station installation can be found here. A YouTube video shows the installation in progress.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photos courtesy of SolarYpsi.
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