Planners approve City Hall solar panels

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The 75-year-old City Hall will be going modern in one aspect soon – solar panels for electric power.

The Plan Commission Thursday approved a conditional use permit for construction of a 19.84-kilowatt photovoltaic panel system on the City Hall roof.

“This proposal would put a solar panel system on the roof of the fire department and would connect into our electrical system for City Hall,” City Administrator Brian Yerges told the commission.

The city has received a $25,000 grant from WPPI toward the project, along with a $2,400 Focus on Energy grant, Yerges said.

The panels, similar to some installed last fall at Plymouth Family Physicians on Eastern Avenue, will be installed by Arch Electric at a cost of $61,914. The City Council had awarded the contract last month contingent on Plan Commission approval of the conditional use permit.

The city will cover the remainder of the cost of the panels using a $35,000 refund from Plymouth Utilities for an electric service overcharge at City Hall.

Yerges explained that, during the research on installing the solar panels at City Hall, it was discovered that a temporary electric meter installed at City Hall during the 2008 remodeling and addition for the fire and police departments had never been removed.

That resulted in Plymouth Utilities double billing the city for City Hall electricity, which went unnoticed with the increased electric usage after the project was completed.

“With the grant and the payback the project is essentially paid for,” Yerges noted. “No other funds are going into this project.”

Commissioner Pete Rammer asked whether the panels would be visible to the public. That concern had been raised before the commission when it approved the solar panel array at Plymouth Family Physicians.

“The general public wouldn’t be able to see them,” Building Inspector Pete Scheuerman said of the proposed City Hall array. He did concede that they might be visible from the upper floors of some nearby downtown buildings, but the commission did not see that as a concern.

The commission discussed a request from developer Dave Schaefer to combine three lots in the East Towne Estates and create two larger lots for duplexes.

Scheuerman explained that Schaefer was not seeking approval at this time but instead wanted to get the commission’s feelings on the idea.

“We’re going with kind of what the market dictates,” Schaefer said, noting a demand for duplexes in the city. “We work with what the market wants.”

Commission member Jim Flanagan noted that the subdivision off Pleasantview Road already includes a number of vacant lots zoned for two-family homes and questioned why the developers needed to create more such lots.

Rammer pointed to the city’s master plan, which defines a desirable ratio of single-family and twofamily lots in residential developments, saying Schaefer’s request would mean the subdivision would probably exceed that ratio.

“It kind of devalues the (homes) you already have there, unless some of the (existing) duplex lots go single-family,” Rammer commented.

With three commission members – Bill Barbieur, Alan DeRouin and Dan Feldner – absent from the meeting, the commission members suggested that Schaefer come back to another commission meeting for a further discussion of his plans.

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