Located about 38 miles east of Detroit, Ypsilanti, Michigan, is famous for “Rosie the Riveter” building B24 bombers for World War II and the city’s parts suppliers feeding the automotive industry. Today, as a post-industrial city, Ypsilanti is revitalizing its economy by becoming a “Solar Destination.” In April 2017, Ypsilanti earned a SolSmart Gold award, signaling to solar companies that the city is “open for solar business.”
SolarYpsi, a volunteer-led grassroots effort in Ypsilanti dedicated to promoting the use of renewable energy sources, launched its first solar installation project in 2005 at the Ypsilanti Food Cooperative with a four-panel system installed on the roof of the co-op by volunteers. Since that first project, SolarYpsi has garnered support from local residents and the city to help advance solar energy in the community.In 2009, with support from a state grant, volunteers from SolarYpsi installed a 12-panel solar installation on the back of city hall that continues to provide 2.5kW of solar energy to power the building. With the completion of that installation, the city sold the renewable energy credits for $3,000 and continues to benefit from lower energy costs. Prior to achieving SolSmart Gold designation in 2017, Ypsilanti had 34 solar projects installed throughout Ypsilanti and had a solar capacity of 1 MW.Ypsilanti has been no stranger to solar energy.
These innovative and community-led projects have earned Ypsilanti the 2019 Smart Cities Connects’ Horizon Award for “Building Community with Solar Power.” Dave Strenski, founder of SolarYpsi, credits the success of solar energy in Ypsilanti to support from the city, the installation work of SolarYpsi’s volunteers, and programs like SolSmart that help make communities more acceptable of solar energy. Strenski believes that continued engagement from the city of Ypsilanti, local residents, and volunteers will make Ypsilanti a “Solar Destination” in Michigan.
Since becoming SolSmart designated, SolarYpsi and its volunteers have installed or encouraged several new projects that added 0.16 MW of solar capacity, bringing solar capacity in the city to a grand total of 1.16 MW and giving Ypsilanti over 55 watts per capita. Three of these projects were installed at Parkridge low-income housing development, at Ypsilanti’s Department of Public Safety Truck Port, and at the fire station, which have a combined output of 110kW.
These projects were funded by private donations, the city’s energy efficiency and conservation fund, and by monetizing the federal tax credits. The city expects to save more than $6,000 annually on just the fire station project and have a calculated solar payback period of just 5 years.Despite already having many solar projects throughout Ypsilanti, when SolarYpsi discovered SolSmart, an initiative funded by the Department of Energy to help encourage communities across the United States to make it easier to go solar, they saw it as an opportunity to address inefficiencies in their solar permitting process. As part of the SolSmart program, Ypsilanti committed to a three-day turnaround time for solar permit applications, to reduce permitting costs, and to earn points in the community engagement criteria section for establishing partnerships with local nonprofit organizations. With a multiyear goal, Ypsilanti created financing support options to encourage low-to-moderate income participation in community solar initiatives. By participating in SolSmart, Ypsilanti made the process of obtaining solar energy less prohibitive for residents and businesses, and became the first city in Michigan to earn SolSmart designation.
This case study was written by SolSmart team member Maria Ibarra Rodriguez, Intern at ICMA.