Washtenaw County Saves $766,900 With Solar Panels

Funding from Michigan State’s Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, or ARRA, will reach the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners to be spent at their discretion.

One of their choices is solar energy, specifically solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, to be installed on the roof of a county office building at 705 N. Zeeb Road at a cost of $115,000.

The rooftop solar array is expected to generate between 3 percent and 5 percent of the building’s total annual electricity needs, saving the county (and taxpayers) $1,000 to $1,500. The 10-kilowatt solar energy system on a county facility will also prevent between 16,000 and 24,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, or about 8.6 metric tons over its lifetime, or the equivalent of planting 221 trees per year, or removing 1.6 cars from the road.

The county may also be able to sell the electricity as renewable energy credits (RECs) or ”Green Tags” and add between $500 and $1,000 to its operating budget per year.

The installation will also provide educational opportunities to residents and schools via an electronic display in the front lobby of the building, which will include a description of the PV project and real-time calculations of electricity produced and dollars saved.

Washtenaw County officials also plan to spend $76,690 toward the development of a Southeast Michigan Energy Office – a concerted effort between the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, the Detroit-based WARM Training Center and SEMCOG (Southeast Michigan Council of Governments), a regional planning partnership. The group aims to track energy savings, provide energy audits, assist Department of Energy reporting and grant compliance assistance, and offer grant writing and other technical assistance.

Another $242,500 of the award will be used to retrofit various county buildings, including T8 (high efficiency, fluorescent) lighting upgrades and adding energy sensors to county storerooms, mechanical rooms and restrooms, as well as adding LED lights where appropriate, adding insulation and building hot-water heating systems, notably at the county’s detention facility.

Another $57,710 would be spent developing a Washtenaw County energy policy and strategy, and a final $275,000 devoted to a revolving loan fund to provide for residential, commercial and institutional building energy upgrades.

The county estimates $400,000 in energy savings over the course of a decade, with project payback times ranging from 4 to 13 years, with the overall intent aimed at increasing energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to county officials.

Overall, the initiative is intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and realize energy savings at county facilities, as well as some residential and commercial facilities. The use of the approximately $100,000 left over has not been mentioned.

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