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Rochester Fire Dept goes solar-powered

The Rochester Fire Department has tipped its hat to environmentalism and financial responsibility by installing a solar paneled roof on its building.

The project was completed in January and is believed to be the first of its kind in Michigan and one of the first in the United States.

"The environmental aspect is obviously an important piece of this," City Manager Jaymes Vettraino says. "But the City Council was really moved by the dollars. They asked to show if money could be saved, and it could."

The roof, which generates solar power, came at the recommendation of New Energy Solutions, a consultant hired by the city to identify areas where energy costs could be saved or improved. That relationship began following a free energy audit provided by the Michigan Dept of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth through a clean energy grant program.

The roof was installed by Allen Brothers Roofing's recently-founded branch company, LUMA Resources, which formed as a solar products division. Federal and state stimulus grants were used to help LUMA transfer from traditional to solar roofing. The company, based in Rochester Hills, was lauded for its new economy innovation and for adapting to clean and renewable energy by President Barack Obama during the 2011 State of the Union address.

The roof cost $41,000, $22,000 of which was covered by DTE's Solar Currents program, which supports efforts to use alternative, clean and renewable energy. Energy from the fire department's solar panels will be returned to DTE's power grid. 

The final cost to the city was $19,000, and the roof is expected to save $150,000 in energy costs over the next 25 years, he says. The fire department, which was ideal because of its westward-facing roof, is a test vehicle for the city.

"We're very excited about where this could go,"  Vettraino says. "We're very happy with the product so far. Obviously if it keeps going like it is, we'll keep saving money."

Source: Jaymes Vettraino, Rochester City Manager
Writer: Kim North Shine


Former Birmingham post office gets green makeover

A former post office turned office building in downtown Birmingham got a complete green makeover, and tenants are expected to be moving in soon.

Jeff Surnow, of West Bloomfield-based The Surnow Company, says the former post office was completely gutted of its old and inefficient features. The 19,000-square-foot, 80-year-old building, on Martin Street in downtown Birmingham, has a new heating and cooling system, plumbing, electrical, light fixtures, and more.

For example, some skylights were uncovered, and old light fixtures were replaced with high-efficiency, low-energy lights. "We're able to get the same amount of light with half the fixtures, and 20 percent of the energy costs," he says.

The new, forced-air heating system is better coordinated between zones, so one part of the building isn't receiving unnecessary heat, for example, and the roof has six inches of new insulation. "It's a substantial amount of energy efficiency this building is going to have compared to what it was," he says.

In addition to new features, Surnow also examined the building's floor plan -- he made one central kitchen space, and several shared conference rooms. This way, a business doesn't pay for  rooms in a large suite that are rarely used. "We're changing the style of how the building is run and how people do their business," he says. "Being green is very important to us."

Source: Jeff Surnow, The Surnow Company
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Better Buildings for Michigan funds residential energy improvements

A Ferndale neighborhood will be the first of 12 in southeast Michigan to benefit from residential energy efficiency grants through a program that kicks off today.

A Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth program, originally called the Michigan Retrofit Ramp-up Initiative and now Better Buildings for Michigan, is part of a national program that is distributing $30 million across the state. Gov. Jennifer Granholm is expected to officially announce and begin the statewide program today, and is expected to visit a home and assist with an energy audit.

The community-focused programs will target residential areas, selecting neighborhoods based on the age of the home, the area's demographics, and other features, explains Amanda Dentler, Outreach Director for the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office. Ferndale is the first city in the area to receive funding, and the office will alternate between Detroit and a suburb for each of the 12 neighborhoods; in all, six regions across Michigan are participating.

A total of 420 homes are selected in each community, and a $50 contribution by the homeowner gets a $1,200 package that includes an energy audit, light bulbs, blower door tests, efficient shower and sink faucets, and more. Dentler says the program is off to a good start -- of the selected homes, about a quarter have been contacted, and half of those have already agreed to participate.

"That's a success for us, considering no one's ever heard of this," she says. "I think we'll get a flood of commitments after the governor kicks it off."

The number of houses selected in a community, at 420, qualifies it to be a metropolitan neighborhood, she explains, and is a large enough population to begin to reduce the carbon and energy use of the area. Each neighborhood will get a six-week sweeps period, with canvassing and outreach, and a liaison afterwards if there's any follow-up or late interest.

According to a Department of Energy document, the goal for Better Buildings in Michigan is to address 11,340 residential buildings and at least 131 commercial, public, and industrial structures across Michigan over three years. It should save 1.2 trillion BTUs of energy, and 19.6 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, while creating 2,063 green jobs, the document says.

Michigan's share comes from a total of $452 million in federal stimulus funds.

Source: Amanda Dentler, outreach director for Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Monroe County Community College breaks ground for new solar energy system

The ground is now officially broken for a 500-kilowatt, $3-million photovoltaic renewable energy system at Monroe County Community College.

The system is part of a 20-year agreement that will provide Detroit Edison's customers with renewable energy from the sun, but also give students at MCCC a chance to see live and up close just how renewable energy works. Plus, the college gets paid as part of its lease for the space.

The solar panel array will be at the rear east side of campus, beyond the Physical Plant building and near a creek, in an area that isn't used right now. Although the solar array won't be part of the curriculum, students will still be able to observe it.

An informational kiosk will be displayed. "That will describe everything about the project -- how much energy it generates, how big it is," says Joe Verkennes, the college's director of marketing.

He says the college's industrial technology division offers programs like mechanical design, mechanical technology, and construction management, and renewable energy is intertwined into all those curricula. "This is helping us weave this into our programs, and we have a vision to develop some kind of alternative energy program in the future," he says.

The college hosted a groundbreaking on Monday. It also recently received used equipment from DTE Energy for a separate solar project.

The installation is part of Detroit Edison's pilot SolarCurrents program, which calls for photovoltaic systems to be installed on customer property or rooftops over the next five years. The investment is expected to generate 15 megawatts of electricity throughout southeast Michigan.

MCCC is the first educational institution to participate in the program, and its installation will be Detroit Edison's largest SolarCurrents installation on a college campus.

Source: Joe Verkennes, director of marketing, Monroe County Community College
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Electric car charging stations coming to metro Detroit

Car fuel has come a long way - from steam to leaded gasoline - and now the metro area is preparing for the next technology, electric charging.

Throughout the state, more than 5,300 home and workplace charging stations are expected to be installed through a collaboration between General Motors, DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, and others. The utilities will cover up to $2,500 of the cost of the charging station and installation.

Novi and Northville are among cities in the area that will see electric car charging stations coming soon.

GM's Chevy Volt is one of several electric cars soon to be hitting the public market. By the end of 2011, General Motors plans to have almost 350 charging stations in place for employees at its facilities in Michigan; more than 100 are already installed. That includes 18 planned stations in and around downtown Detroit's Renaissance Center.

GM-installed charging stations for use by its employees in Michigan will include 34 at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly center, where the Volt is built, and 140 in the homes of employees driving early-build models for quality evaluation. In addition, more than 1,500 Chevrolet dealers across the U.S. plan to install charging stations for use by customers, which includes nearly 650 dealers that will soon begin selling the Volt.

And to further take advantage of clean energy, many of the charging stations at GM facilities will be powered by renewable solar energy; the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly center already has 10 stations in place powered by photovoltaic systems. A similar system will also be put in place at the Warren Technical Center and Milford Proving Ground.

A grant program also exists for businesses and municipalities interested in installing charging stations. Business and municipalities in Michigan can apply online to own these free charging stations here.

Coulomb Technologies' ChargePoint America program unveiled its first networked charging station in Michigan, at NextEnergy just outside of Detroit. It is the first of hundreds of public charging stations that will be installed throughout southern Michigan as a part of a $37 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Source: General Motors; ChargePoint America
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Geothermal system saves Plymouth Cultural Center, Ice Arena big bucks

Plymouth is putting its ice arena's high gas bills on ice.

With its first gas bill after the installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system, the Plymouth Cultural Center and Ice Arena's savings are already running into the thousands of dollars. Steve Anderson, the city's recreation director, says the 2008 and 2009 September gas bills were $4,600 and $4,100; last month's was about $800. "We're excited to see how things pan out," he says.

The whole system is expected to be fully functional by the end of this week. The ice arena has been up and running for about two months.

Anderson explains that the system's efficiency not only costs less, but makes for better skating conditions. With smaller, more efficient compressors that kick on only as needed, the whole system doesn't fire up unless necessary. "Because they're smaller capacity units with multiple phases, they're only using what they need," Anderson says.

"Hockey likes hard, fast ice, and no standing water, which means the puck stops," he explains. "When we lay 140-degree water and it's snap freezing in 30-40 seconds, the surface is faster, the puck won't hit water, and it creates a better surface for the user."

Plus, the arena can now use the heat taken from the water elsewhere in the building. "The Zamboni puts down 140-degree water, and that's energy we've already paid for," he says. "We're (now) pulling heat out of the ice surface and sending it to other parts of the buildings."

Geothermal is seen as the top-of-the-line energy efficient heating and cooling system. There are other geothermal ice arenas in the United States and Canada, but this is Michigan's first.

The $1.1 million project was paid for by the city's general fund. Anderson gave credit to the city commission for being proactive and replacing an aging system, original to the 1972 building, that likely would have been due for an upgrade soon anyway. Electric bill savings will be apparent during the hotter summer months.

The facility, at 525 Farmer Road, houses an ice rink, meeting rooms, banquet rooms, and recreation department offices.

Source: Steve Anderson, recreation director, city of Plymouth
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Auburn Hills lands $200K to improve energy efficiency

With nearly $100,000 in grant money, and a near-equivalent amount in matching funds, the city of Auburn Hills will be making its buildings more energy-efficient.

The city was among communities that received a Michigan Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant for energy efficiency projects, sourced from federal stimulus funding awarded by the Bureau of Energy Systems. For Auburn Hills, that means new electrical meters, new lighting, an energy audit, and an energy system that can be controlled remotely.

Dan Brisson, the city's m
anager of facilities and roads, explains that the funds will be used on four phases, the first being lighting upgrades. Afterward, the city will work on upgrading its energy-management system, where employees can log on via the Internet and control temperatures and occupancy schedules from anywhere.

"It's kind of a programmable therm for home, but with a broader scope," Brisson says.

The administration building, for example, is currently made up of 17 different heating and cooling zones, so one side of the building could be cool enough for heat while the other side is warm enough for the A/C. Plus, if someone forgets to dial back the heat or A/C before leaving for the day, that can be rectified from a computer.

Also to be installed are individual electric meters on six of the city's facilities, which are currently connected to one meter. This will also help measure how efficient each of the buildings are, explains city water resources coordinator Shawn Keenan.

"That's going to help us better measure our energy use for each of those buildings, as it works toward achieving energy efficiency goals the city has," he says.

The funds will also be used for a more comprehensive audit on the city's community center.

The state funding received for the project was $97,553, with the city matching almost as much. But Keenan estimated a savings of at least $9,556 each year, as well as a reduction of 106,181 kilowatts and 90 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

"A lot of this work was planned before the grant, and the grant is allowing us to do more, more quickly," Keenan says. "We share all of our ideas to come up with good solutions that are really sustainable."

Brisson hopes the projects will be nearly wrapped up by the time temperatures start to drop, so the city can take advantage of the new heating technologies. Not only are the improvements good for the Earth, but they make good business sense, too, he says.

"We have utility bills just like the homeowner," he says. "We don't want to pay more for electricity if we can make improvements. Anything we can do that makes economic sense to reduce energy consumption and take a green initiative, we're going to try to do."

Sources: Shawn Keenan, water resources coordinator and Dan Brisson, manager of facilities and roads, city of Auburn Hills
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Ford, DTE Energy team up to build state's largest solar panel system

Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne will be getting a renewable energy transformation.

The plant will be converted into one of Michigan's largest solar power generation systems, teaming up with DTE Energy and Xtreme Power to capture renewable energy. The 500-kilowatt solar photovoltaic panel system will be installed as a team effort between Ford and Detroit Edison, which will allow the facility to store 2 million watt-hours of energy, enough to power 100 homes for a year, via batteries. Xtreme Power, of Austin, Texas, is supplying the on-site energy storage and power management system.

That energy will help power the production of fuel-efficient small cars. A secondary, smaller solar energy system will be integrated at a later date to power lighting systems at Michigan Assembly.

Jennifer Moore, manager of corporate news for Ford Motor Company, says Ford looks at the energy it uses not only in its cars, but in its facilities that make cars. "As part of our overall sustainability efforts, one of the things we take a look at is energy efficiency in our facilities around the world," she says. "We use alternative energies in a number of our facilities around the globe. The use of renewable energy is something we've looked at for a long time."

The solar energy installation is part of Detroit Edison's pilot SolarCurrents program, which calls for photovoltaic systems to be installed on customer rooftops or property. This project was funded by a $3 million investment from Detroit Edison's SolarCurrents program, a $2 million grant from the Michigan Public Service Commission, and approximately $800,000 from Ford.

The systems at Michigan Assembly are expected to save an estimated $160,000 per year in energy costs. Installation begins later this year.

Ford also will install 10 electric vehicle-charging stations at Michigan Assembly, for electric switcher trucks that transport parts between facilities, also provided by Xtreme Power.

Moore says Ford is also investigating whether car batteries have a second life as storage units. And, while vehicles make the obvious environmental footprint, the automaker still seeks to lessen that footprint and make its facilities more energy-efficient.

"It is genuinely part of our overall sustainability efforts as a company," she says.

Source: Jennifer Moore, manager of corporate news for Ford Motor Company
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Stimulus helps weatherize hundreds of homes in Macomb County

Weather stripping, adding insulation, and replacing light bulbs can all make a difference in a home's energy costs, and a Roseville residence recently showed off exactly how.

The weatherization assistance program, federally funded through the U.S. Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program, is managed in Macomb County through its Community Services Agency. The program has been in existence since 1977, explains Joe Cooke, community operations coordinator for the Macomb County Community Services Agency, but it got more publicity last year after receiving stimulus funding.

The agency used to weatherize about 200 homes a year; now it's closer to 900. Staffing has been doubled to keep up with the demands that came from the increased funding.

To show off the work, agency representatives picked a house that had been weatherized in the past and brought the contractors and inspectors back to talk about some of the things they'd done. "One of the reasons for the demonstration house is to show people their stimulus dollars at work," Cooke says.

Weatherizing actions usually consist of caulking, weather stripping, insulating, new light bulbs, and replacing refrigerators and furnaces that aren't energy-efficient. The fixes are dependent on
available funds, so, Cooke explains, a pre-inspection is done on the house to see where energy is being wasted. Then a computer program reports what can be done to the house to tighten it up.

The stimulus funds, an $8.7 million boost for weatherizing homes in Macomb County alone, are available through March of 2012. Cooke says he already has about a year's worth of work lined up.

It's important to concentrate on the homes of those living on a lower income because on average, they spend a greater percentage of their income on utility bills. Weatherization can reduce those costs by about a third. "That's money they can use for food, shelter or other items," he says.

Source: Joe Cooke, community operations coordinator for Macomb County Community Services Agency
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

DTE's SolarCurrents program hits $1M mark

DTE Energy's SolarCurrents program is hitting significant milestones, meaning more solar panels going up all over Metro Detroit.

The program, which started in September, has provided more than $1 million to customers who want to help cut the costs of installing solar panels. That means 55 installations worth about 250 kilowatts of renewable electric capacity. Another 200 applications under review would add another 1,300 kilowatts.

"We have dedicated $25 million toward SolarCurrents," says Scott Simons, a spokesman for DTE Energy. "There is a lot of opportunity for our customers to take advantage of it."

The idea behind the program is to make these systems more affordable for customers and to help DTE meet Michigan's new Renewable Portfolio Standard. Those taking advantage of the program receive 50 percent of both the value of the Renewable Energy Credits upon installation and the remaining RECs as a credit on their bills for the next 20 years.

This program combined with federal tax credits and incentives covers more than half of the installation costs for solar panel systems. For more information, click here.

Source: Scott Simons, spokesman for DTE Energy
Writer: Jon Zemke

Brownstown Middle School plans green projects

Brownstown Middle School is going for the green building trifecta by installing a wind turbine, solar panels, and a green roof.

The Woodhaven-Brownstown School District received $670,000 in federal grants to install the three sustainability projects this summer that will help generate clean energy for the school and teach its students about science, biology, and environmental issues. The green roof promises to be the biggest teaching tool.

"They are putting a football field-sized green roof on top of the building," says Andrew Clark, the assistant principal at Brownstown Middle School who is helping organize the project with Ann Arbor-based Energy Works Michigan. "There will be five different types of grass."

Those types will range from resilient vegetation that grows year-round to plants that flourish during the warm months of the year. Next to that will be six solar panels that will generate electricity for the school.
Students will monitor and study the power generation.

A 60-foot tall wind turbine will be installed in front of the school. The school's staff will also use it as a teaching tool for students who want to learn about wind energy. Clark says the turbine will create minimal noise that won't impact the surrounding neighborhood.

"They assured us that the noise it would generate would be less than the ambient noise that the wind makes," Clark says.

The projects are expected to begin construction after school lets out this summer and be ready to go in time for classes this fall.

Source: Andrew Clark, the assistant principal at Brownstown Middle School
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor aims to switch 75% of streetlights to LEDs by 2011

Some cities aim to one day have LED street lights. Ann Arbor aims to convert 75 percent of its street lights to LED. By next year. The city is also planning to install them in a number of its buildings this summer, so it can serve as a municipal showcase of their virtues.

Excerpt:

LED lights are already a staple in downtown Ann Arbor's streetlights, but the next generation of energy efficient lighting is about to become the go-to municipal light bulb in Tree Town.

The City Council has approved a $218,000 contract to install 88 LEDs in the ornamental streetlights along West Stadium Boulevard. The city is also inline to take advantage of a state grant that will allow it to replace many of the high-powered lights at its buildings throughout the city, such as the garage lights in fire stations and the lights at the Mack Pool.

"It's going beyond streetlights," says Andrew Brix, energy programs manager for the city of Ann Arbor. "This is the new frontier."

Read the rest of the story here.

Dearborn explores waste-to-energy plant feasibility

The city of Dearborn is soliciting proposals to explore the feasibility of a waste-to-energy plant.

The project is part of the city's efforts to become more environmentally friendly. Other recent initiatives are moving toward single-stream recycling and considering LED streetlights.
Local officials see the waste-to-energy plant as another feather in the city's tree-hugging hat.

"Do we have enough waste to create enough energy to support the industrial facilities in the city?" says David Norwood, sustainability coordinator for the city of Dearborn.

The waste-to-energy plant isn't your normal dirty Detroit-style incinerator. Dearborn is looking at gasification plans that don't actually burn the refuse. The city is also looking at an anerobic digestor for its sludge waste.

The proposals are due by May 24 (more information here) and a decision on the feasibility of this idea is expected to be made before the end of the year.

Source: David Norwood, sustainability coordinator for the city of Dearborn
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland Schools Technical Campus adds solar, wind systems

The Oakland Schools Technical Campus in Clarkston is going for a twofer in alternative energy, installing both a solar- and a wind-power system.

Over the last year, Oak Electric has been working with the school to get approvals for permits and to sort out engineering issues. The foundations for the solar panels and the wind turbine have been poured and installation of the actual equipment will begin next week. Both systems should be up and running by the end of May.

The school district is spending $36,000 to install a two-kilowatt ground-mount solar system, which will be installed first. Next is a 2.4 kilowatt Skystream wind turbine that will stand 45 feet tall.

Both systems will be used to power the campus. They will also be used as teaching tools for students to learn about the ins and out of alternative energy.

Source: Gary Pipia, president of Oak Electric
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland, Macomb counties push forward green programs

Oakland and Macomb counties are pushing toward a more sustainable government with a recent spate of announcements for environmentally friendly programs. Those programs include a website dedicated to information activities on sustainability, cutting energy costs through efficiency improvements, and challenging local residents and businesses to cut energy use by 10 percent within the next two years.

That last one is called the OakGreen Challenge and was issued by Oakland County Executive L Brooks Patterson just before the county's second annual Green Summit in mid-May.

The program is similar to Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje's Green Energy Challenge. That initiative, announced in 2005, calls for Ann Arbor to use 20 percent green energy by 2010 for municipal operations and by 2015 for the whole city. The city is now on a path to reach 30 percent green energy usage by the end of the year.

Not to be left out of the energy efficiency fun is Macomb County, which recently announced that it has saved taxpayers $44,400 in energy costs through implementing energy efficient improvements. Those savings took place in the first two months of contracting electrical power from First Energy for nine buildings that draw power from its main powerhouse, plus the Administration Building. The savings are projected to hit $600,000 over the next two years.

Macomb County also recently launched Green Macomb, a website dedicated to green initiatives and information. Think of the efforts being undertaken to create everything from energy efficiencies to clean water initiatives.

Source: Oakland and Macomb counties
Writer: Jon Zemke
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