PETOSKEY â€” Petoskey officials say a demonstration project to install solar panels on the roof of city hall will still hopefully be completed by the end of the year, despite some adjustments that have had to be made along the way.
The city has positioned this smaller-scale installation as something of a test-run before investing in larger alternative energy strategies â€” like a solar array at the former River and Howard Road landfill â€”Â that could feed into Petoskey’s electrical grid. In August, Petoskey City Council members approved a $119,450 contract with Nova Consultants, based in Novi, to begin work on the city hall project.
“We found out that the roof just above the … council chambers will not hold the type of solar arrays and ballasts that Nova is proposing, so we’re looking at possibly a different type of solar panel, a different type of ballast,” City Manager Rob Straebel said at a recent meeting.
When council members approved the contract with Nova, plans entailed using weighted ballasts to keep the solar panels in place â€” touted at the time as a preferable route because it would not require any significant modifications to the roof itself, and, by extension, would be unlikely to void the city’s warranty on the roof. And, while that plan will probably work for much of the building’s roof, newer engineering work shows that a more modern wing of the building, on its northern end, might not have the structure to support it.
“Those were things that we felt we needed to address to make sure the weight of the solar panels with the snow load wasn’t going to compromise the roof,”Â City Parks and Recreation Director Kendall Klingelsmith said in a followup interview.Â “We found there was a spot on the roof we needed to relook at. We’re just working very closely with the solar contractor to come up with alternative options, because they want to give us the product that they bid on, and we want to be able to reap the benefits of the initial concept.”
Nova has worked on a wide variety of solar projects throughout the state, but Klingelsmith noted that each project is different. Petoskey experiences different amounts of snow fall than other parts of the state, and current snow fall levels are also different than what they were when the roof was first constructed, accounting for some of the necessary modifications.
The city had earmarked $150,000 for the project in this yearâ€™s budget. The panels are expected to produce 82,808 kilowatt hours of power annually and would account for about 83 percent of the electrical needs at the building. That amount of power would be valued at about $9,183 annually, meaning the project would pay for itself in 13 years.
Klingelsmith said the city is still aiming to maintain that basic level of productivity even with the upcoming changes.
Nova is currently working on alternatives, which will likely incorporate a combination of weighted and anchored ballasts. The aim is also to maintain the integrity of the roof, and keep the city’s roof warranty valid in the course of any structural changes. A representative for Nova declined to comment until he received permission from the city to do so.
“Our goal is to still get it done this year,” Klingelsmith said. “Obviously with the winds are the biggest concern, just to get the solar panels from ground level to roof is going to need a crane, and obviously in 30 mile per hour winds, that isn’t going to happen. I think once everything gets up on the roof it will go fairly quickly.”
Early plans suggested a tentative summer completion date for the installation, but that was before bids even went out. Klingelsmith said the pandemic played a major role in delaying projects like this.
Eventually, the successes and failures of this first solar array will aid the city in future renewable energy decisions, including the possible conversion of the city’s former landfill into a solar station.
Both solar panel projects would help the city work toward its goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.
The city is working with the Michigan Public Power Agency, the organization which buys and sells electrical assets to municipalities, to reach those energy goals. And, if the solar panel project moves forward, thereâ€™s a chance the city could hand ownership off to the agency, solving the currently open-ended question of who would own the energy infrastructure.
“Everything kind of relates,” Klingelsmith said. “The solar demonstration project at city hall, yes, we’re hoping that 80 percent of our energy bill can be renewable. But on the bigger picture, we’re also looking at ways we can design and we can maintain resilient projects through sustainable practices.”