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University of Michigan students help Ann Arbor fire station go solar

MLive Ann Arbor logo MLive Ann Arbor 10/19/2019 By Ryan Stanton, mlive.com
a man riding a skateboard on the court: Under sunny blue skies, University of Michigan students and other community volunteers worked alongside a city-hired contractor Harvest Solar LLC to finish installing 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. © Ryan Stanton | ryanstanton@mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Under sunny blue skies, University of Michigan students and other community volunteers worked alongside a city-hired contractor Harvest Solar LLC to finish installing 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

ANN ARBOR, MI – It was a group of University of Michigan students who pushed the idea.

“Last year, we had the idea of trying to get more solar panels on campus,” said Timothy Spurlin, president of Students for Clean Energy at UM. “We talked to the university and it wasn’t really the right time for them — they had kind of other priorities — so we had the idea to go to the city and see if we could partner with them.”

Under sunny blue skies, University of Michigan students and other community volunteers worked alongside a city-hired contractor Harvest Solar LLC to finish installing 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. © Ryan Stanton | ryanstanton@mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Under sunny blue skies, University of Michigan students and other community volunteers worked alongside a city-hired contractor Harvest Solar LLC to finish installing 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

Ann Arbor officials were receptive and agreed to partner with the student group on a solar installation at city Fire Station 6, next to Briarwood Mall.

Under sunny blue skies, University of Michigan students and other community volunteers worked alongside a city-hired contractor Harvest Solar LLC to finish installing 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. © Ryan Stanton | ryanstanton@mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Under sunny blue skies, University of Michigan students and other community volunteers worked alongside a city-hired contractor Harvest Solar LLC to finish installing 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

Under sunny blue skies Friday, Oct. 18, students and other community volunteers worked alongside city-hired contractor Harvest Solar LLC to finish installing 142 panels atop the station’s roof.

It was a two-day effort starting Thursday and many expressed surprise at how quickly it went.

The 52.5-kilowatt system is now harnessing the sun’s energy and meeting close to 100% of the fire station’s electricity needs.

“It feels great,” Spurlin said as some of the final bolts were being tightened Friday.

“This is something we’ve been working on for probably 10 months now, when we first got in touch with the city and started talking to them about what we could do,” he said. “It was a really big team effort and I’m just so happy that it’s finally come to fruition.”

Through an online crowdfunding campaign, the students raised $3,295 to put toward the $74,000 city project.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, state Rep. Rebekah Warren and city officials were on hand to celebrate its completion.

Students said they attended the recent Climate Strike in Ann Arbor and are feeling a sense of urgency to address global warming.

“I support the change to calling it the climate crisis and I know a lot of young people have that same frustration that adults and a lot of policy leaders are not making that change — they don’t seem to feel that same sense of urgency,” said Loren Murphy, an environmental science senior and Students for Clean Energy member.

Under sunny blue skies, University of Michigan students and other community volunteers worked alongside a city-hired contractor Harvest Solar LLC to finish installing 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. © Ryan Stanton | ryanstanton@mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Under sunny blue skies, University of Michigan students and other community volunteers worked alongside a city-hired contractor Harvest Solar LLC to finish installing 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

Murphy said she’s passionate about sustainability and interested in possibly working in the energy industry someday.

“This gets me super pumped about the future,” she said as she stood next to the solar array Friday, thanking the fire department for stepping up and being a leader on sustainability.

a group of people standing next to a fence: City Council Member Kathy Griswold, D-2nd Ward, talks to University of Michigan students in the middle of a new array of solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. Griswold told the students she has a passive-solar house. © Ryan Stanton | ryanstanton@mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS City Council Member Kathy Griswold, D-2nd Ward, talks to University of Michigan students in the middle of a new array of solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. Griswold told the students she has a passive-solar house.

“Getting sustainability into the mainstream infrastructure is my ultimate goal with my career,” she said. “So to see people taking the steps toward zero carbon, I want to support that as much as I can.”

One solar array on a municipal building isn’t going to solve the entire climate crisis, but every little bit helps, said volunteer Amanda Farthing, a graduate student in UM’s School for Environment and Sustainability and College of Engineering.

“I am actually really interested in solar energy and how we can accelerate this transition to having more solar, and so it’s something I study and I wanted to come out and learn about it firsthand and see what doing a solar installation looks like,” she said.

a group of people standing next to a net: Under sunny blue skies, University of Michigan students and other community volunteers worked alongside a city-hired contractor Harvest Solar LLC to finish installing 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. © Ryan Stanton | ryanstanton@mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Under sunny blue skies, University of Michigan students and other community volunteers worked alongside a city-hired contractor Harvest Solar LLC to finish installing 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

“I also think it’s a really awesome opportunity to get community members involved in the city’s push to have more solar on their municipal buildings, so it seems like a win-win.”

a group of people posing for the camera: Members of Students for Clean Energy at the University of Michigan pose with their banner after helping to install 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. © Ryan Stanton | ryanstanton@mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Members of Students for Clean Energy at the University of Michigan pose with their banner after helping to install 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

This is the first solar array the city has done that comes close to meeting a property’s entire electricity needs, but more are planned, said Missy Stults, the city’s sustainability manager.

a group of people standing next to a fence: Under sunny blue skies, University of Michigan students and other community volunteers worked alongside a city-hired contractor Harvest Solar LLC to finish installing 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. © Ryan Stanton | ryanstanton@mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Under sunny blue skies, University of Michigan students and other community volunteers worked alongside a city-hired contractor Harvest Solar LLC to finish installing 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

“This was essentially a pilot for how we could use volunteer labor and it was wildly successful, so I think we’re now going to look at what sites are ready to go for round two,” she said.

a close up of text on a white surface: A congressional tribute from U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, for the new solar array atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. © Ryan Stanton | ryanstanton@mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS A congressional tribute from U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, for the new solar array atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

The city has a goal of powering 100% of its municipal operations with clean and renewable energy by 2035.

The new array was meeting 100% of the fire station’s energy needs at times on Friday and drawing from the grid other times.

“Right now in this moment, the building is being powered only with solar,” Stults said shortly after 3 p.m. “We’re actually over-generating. We’re sending to the grid at the moment.”

The city has done an analysis of all its buildings to understand where there’s viability for solar, Stults said.

a group of people standing next to a fence: Under sunny blue skies, University of Michigan students and other community volunteers worked alongside a city-hired contractor Harvest Solar LLC to finish installing 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. © Ryan Stanton | ryanstanton@mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Under sunny blue skies, University of Michigan students and other community volunteers worked alongside a city-hired contractor Harvest Solar LLC to finish installing 142 solar panels atop Ann Arbor Fire Station 6 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

The city is looking at issuing a request for proposals soon to install arrays at potentially a double-digit number of sites, Stults said, adding that could include parks where there will be high visibility and at city buildings with heavier carbon footprints.

The city also is looking to do arrays at more affordable housing sites operated the city’s Housing Commission, and at other fire stations as they’re rebuilt in the coming years.

The city also is exploring partnering with a private entity to finance installations and take advantage of federal tax credits for solar that are being phased out, Stults said, noting the city alone doesn’t qualify for the generous rebate incentives.

“It’s a new model for the city, having someone kind of develop on a roof and then leasing out that equipment, so we’ve got to figure out some legal things,” she said, indicating it could help lower city costs.

Spurlin, who is studying economics and environmental studies, said he’s hoping UM will be open to doing more renewable energy projects on campus in the future.

UM President Mark Schlissel has formed a special commission to explore how UM can reduce its carbon emissions to levels that are environmentally sustainable.

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