Detroit owner Karl Schachter has always been interested in solar power, but the cost of expensive installation has always made the switch out of reach.
It didn’t seem possible until Schachter’s neighbor, Tammy Black, offered her an affordable solar panel option, through community organization Community Treehouse Center Detroit and Global Treehouse Initiative 2, all of them. two led by Black.
Schachter, 72, has now been using a hybrid solar power system for two years. He offers space for his friends to live with him. They all have fixed incomes, so installing solar power has created a positive impact.
âThis has a pretty big lag on the electrical portion of our utility bill,â Schachter said. âJudging from several bills we have received in the past, we are saving between $ 25 and $ 35 per month in electricity. “
The Community Treehouse Center Detroit was established to help residents like Schachter protect the environment and gain access to solar power, which reduces gas and electricity bills for residents of Detroit. The project is led by Black, who was inspired by the Pete Nelson Treehouse Project which creates solar-powered community centers.
âIn the community, renewable energy is not available to everyone because it is expensive,â said Black, 58, of Detroit. “So why can’t it be in low income areas?” Why isn’t it the middle class that wants it and needs it? Are some of my seniors making the decision to pay my DTE bill or receive my medication? It shouldn’t be (choices) that they have to make.
The goal of the project is to provide 25 Detroit homes in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood with the installation, maintenance and education of solar panels. So far, 19 homes have received a hybrid solar panel system, which provides connection to solar power and back-up power.
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And it’s not just about saving money for residents. It is also helping the environment.
Black’s solar energy company, Global Treehouse Initiative 2, aims to educate young people and the community on the fundamentals of renewable energy. The company is focused on providing affordable solar options for residential homes, while another company will focus on non-profit commercial projects.
A team of young people – Black calls them âmy babiesâ – are focused on flipping homes, community gardening and fundraising. Children will have the opportunity to follow a real estate agent through the entire house change process, from renovating the house to staging the house for sale.
âOnce they replenish (the house), they’ll get 5% of whatever this house sells for,â Black said. âThey can work as a team, which gives them collaborative skills. “
Bringing solar energy to the people of Detroit
Jefferson Chalmers, located in the eastern part of Detroit, has a country feel with lots of open space, Black said. The houses are spaced out. There are spaces to create gardens. These characteristics attracted Black to live in the neighborhood.
Over the years, she began to want to reduce stress on her neighbors by reducing their energy bills, creating a community, and educating everyone in her path.
âWhen you can see people who aren’t stressed out about their lives, or who smile sometimes, when you know they wouldn’t smile,â Black said. âMy life is not in vain when I see this. It makes me feel good to know that when I leave this Earth I made an impact on someone’s life.
Residents who are part of the association’s program must pay $ 2,000, and the rest is covered by the association. It took the nonprofit $ 250,000 to complete this project, with a donation of $ 25,000 from Hammond Climate Solutions’ Solar Moonlight program. With the help of city inspectors, all 25 homes are expected to be solar powered by the end of November. There are also plans to continue fundraising to provide a back-up battery to participating residents.
âWe’re going to start raising money to get the panels for the power plant and the actual housing for the components we need to get there,â Black said. “We hope that people who are really into renewables will be kind enough to donate.”
The typical cost of installing solar panels is between $ 13,260 and $ 17,940, according to Energy Sage. And it takes about 10.52 years to get an energy return on the initial investment. In Michigan, about 8,000 customers use some form of distributed generation like solar power, according to the Michigan Public Service Commission. According to that same 2019 report, most Michigan customers with solar power are in Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland and Isabella counties.
As solar power grows, Sarah Mills, lecturer at the University of Michigan, and Brad Neumann, educator at Michigan State University Extension, wrote a guide called “Planning and Zoning for Solar Energy Systems: A Guide for Michigan Local Governments â, which aims to help local government officials and planning commissioners. making room for solar power options in neighborhoods and rural areas.
âSolar power, as a renewable energy, reduces our dependence on fossil fuels,â said Mills, senior project manager and speaker at the Graham Sustainability Institute. âAt the neighborhood level, residents who have solar power are able to generate some of their own electricity. “
Michigan, as we know, produces many snowy and dreary days. Mills said these weather conditions can cause solar panels to produce less electricity because the panels are on top of the roof. But even on those days, 70% of the electricity will come from solar power in Detroit compared to a 100% solar day in Phoenix, Mills said.
âOne of the things that I look forward to is the solar panels that are being distributed in all communities, throughout a whole neighborhood, really, have the possibility – if we are able to properly connect the grid – to allow additional resilience, âsays Mills. âIf there is a storm and we know that there will be more and more storms due to climate change and trees will destroy some power lines, distributing this power generation throughout the community really offers an opportunity for resilience. “
Black said the organization is also planning to build a power plant in the neighborhood, bringing around 300 solar panels to a piece of land. This solar panel farm will operate during DTE Energy’s peak hours – the time when more energy is used between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Global Treehouse Initiative 2 is planning outreach activities in other communities once it finishes installing solar panels in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood.
A real treehouse
The Treehouse Community Center lives up to its title. The project, born out of the non-profit Manistique Community Treehouse Center, is set to transform into a large treehouse where community members and people with disabilities can come together in an inclusive and safe space. .
âThe treehouse will be a place you can come and be yourself,â Black said. âYou don’t have to worry about the color of your skin, you don’t have to worry about your physical abilities. Everyone, when they enter this space, is equal. And it is a space of relaxation; it is a space of creativity; it is a space for health.
The 700 square foot building will be fully solar powered, with wheelchair accessible features. There is a long list of programs currently in place, from gardening to helping the elderly, and it will be available at the treehouse once it is built. Mental health professionals will also be on hand for people with depression and anxiety, or for people who may just need to talk to someone.
The solar project joins other projects in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood. The Neighborhood Grocery continues its construction phase, in which Black’s nonprofit is investing $ 10,000, and the Neighborhood Resource Hub continues to provide education to the area.
Contact writer Chanel Stitt on Twitter: @ByChanelStitt. Become a subscriber or offer a subscription.