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Just as calculus was developed independently by both Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Sir Isaac Newton in the 17th century, the idea of a solar-powered Ypsilanti, too, has its genesis as two distinct ideas.
On March 13th, City Council was given a presentation by Honeywell wherein the City could save a significant amount of money in energy costs provided we took out a loan in the amount of $3.1M in order to pay for it all. The idea, called performance contracting, is that by making City buildings more energy efficient, guaranteed savings can be had as the result of using less energy after all upgrades have been implemented. In addition, less maintenance may be required to facilities generating even more potential savings. Honeywell has implemented this program with many other customers such as Eastern Michigan University, the City of Livonia, Mt. Pleasant Public Schools, the City of Mount Clemens, and Wayne State University among others.
The presentation (which may be found HERE [WARNING: 30Mb) detailed improvements such as lighting upgrades, low-flush toilets, window replacement, HVAC replacement, weatherstripping, and caulking. What the project did not include were alternative energies as part of the solution. My 3rd Ward colleague, Council Member Brian Filipiak, and myself both mentioned the success of the Ypsi Food Co-Op as an example of alternative solutions at play in Ypsilanti.
Unbeknownst to both Council Member Filipiak and myself was that local solar folk hero, Dave Strenski, had set up a meeting with the mayor to discuss placing solar panels on the south-facing wall of City Hall. THIS was Dave’s first draft of the project. It called for thirty-seven 51″ X 35″ panels. It was then updated and expanded to include sixty-eight panels at a cost of $90K.
Director of Public Works head, Bill Bohlen, quickly organized a meeting between Honeywell, Mr. Strenski, and those from Council who wished to attend. It was productive. Honeywell even suggested they may be able to donate the panels to the City provided they could reap the PR benefits such a project would produce. Realistically, it would be borderline insane for the City to spend money on the project because the payback is so slow. The money would be better spent on insulation than it would be on alternative energies. However, the public relations impact this could have on the City of Ypsilanti would be immeasurable. If Chicago can transform itself from the hog-butcher to the world to a Green City, then Ypsilanti can too. We should be advertising Ypsilanti, and this should be part of that goal.
That’s where you people enter the picture.
The City Hall solar panel project was quickly branded the Ypsilanti People’s Solar Initiative because acronymns are the key to everything. I wondered out loud if we could raise money for the project by asking community members to kick in some cash.
City Planner and private citizen, Richard Murphy, took the fundraising a step further. He created a PledgeBank page committing to donate $50 to the project if 200 other people do the same. In a little more than a week, 13 people have signed, pledging $650 towards the cost of the project.
Here’s where all of this gets tricky.
There is already a move afoot to kill this project. People are throwing around fighting words like “cheese-grater” as if this project would be similar to the old aluminum siding-covered faÃƒÂ§ade the City spent $1.5M removing. Not only is that short-sighted thinking. It’s an affront to engineering.
Function is beauty.
The Historic District Commission would have to rule in favor of allowing this project to move forward. Despite being quite progressive, the HDC already ruled once against the Ypsi Food Co-Op putting solar panels on an exterior parapet wall. However, when you look out the window of your historically-plaqued home, you probably see power, telephone, and cable lines, satellite dishes, and other such ilk. Historically significant? I think not. Perfectly acceptable? Absolutely.
But the point here is not to go to war with the HDC. The point is to convince them this project does not contradict the tennents of historic preservation.
The story about how One South Huron came to become City Hall is better left to cynical, local historians, but it’s an excellent example of adaptive reuse. The original use of the structure (bank) was no longer required, so it’s primary use was transformed while retaining the architectural details that made the building so unique in the first place.
When it comes to the City Hall Solar Project, it should be noted this proposal calls for one row of solar panels on a wall that has only two windows. One could hardly argue this wall is “character-defining” or an architectural element to the building that should be retained at all costs. In fact, one would be hard pressed to make a substantial argument that the project would violate any of the HDC’s review criteria. Specifically, the project would:
- not destroy the original character
- preserve distinctive features
- [contemporary designs shall ] be compatible and shall not destroy significant original material
- [new work shall] be removable
The project has been scheduled to appear before the Historic District Commission on May 1st at 7PM in the lower meeting room at City Hall. I would encourage everyone to attend and show your support for this project. I would love to join you, but I have been temporarily banned.
But the most important thing to take away from all of this is that we need your money. Go to the YPSI Solar PledgeBank page and sign up. Do it. You don’t have to give any money now. Your pledge is entirely dependent upon reaching the goal of 200 other pledges.
You have nothing to lose, but everyone has something to gain.
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