Township board OKs solar array

MARQUETTE — The Marquette Township Board of Trustees on Wednesday approved a free-standing solar array for the Marquette Township Community Center.

The system will be built by the Marquette-based Peninsula Solar LLC for $72,465.

“This one pays for itself, assuming that we will not have a really dark next 25 years, and let’s pray that doesn’t happen,” said township Manager Jon Kangas, who noted the array will be on the north side of the center.

The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act allows municipalities to take a 30% direct payment for the installation of a solar system, Kangas said in a recent memo to the board.

Having discussed the options extensively with Negaunee Township, he wrote that staff had requested a “design-build” proposal from Peninsula Solar for two options: roof-top and free-standing, with Peninsula Solar already having installed a solar system for the Negaunee Township Hall in 2022.

Kangas noted that a roof-top option initially would be more affordable, but would present issues when the roof has to be replaced.

“Peninsula Solar suggests the age of our roof is at the age limit for installing roof-top options,” he wrote. “A free-standing option allows the use of a dual-sided panel, which allows for a 20% increase in energy generation in the winter due to the sun reflecting off the snow. Additionally, a free-standing option causes concerns only for snow storage and lawn maintenance.”

Kangas wrote that a site plan will need to be reviewed for compliance with restrictive covenants for a free-standing option, and staff has initiated the conversation with the Cornerstone Development Corp. It appears that this option will be feasible, he said.

“While the return on investment is shorter for a roof-top option, we believe the racking system will far outlast the 25-year panel life and will be reusable for multiple generations of panels in the future,” Kangas wrote. “This means we won’t pay for a rack system every time panels need replacement.”

The money for the project, which will include the 30% rebate, will come from the general fund.

“The dollars are there for special projects or for emergencies,” Treasurer Ernest Johnson said at Wednesday’s meeting.

The Upper Peninsula weather also is not expected to be a hindrance, according to Peninsula Solar.

General Manager Ben Schimpf told the board, “The systems that we design are really designed around the specific environmental conditions that we deal with here in the U.P.”

He also pointed out that since the company is local, it can respond quickly to issues that arise.

Schimpf said panels can be tilted down easily to 60 degrees after the first snowfall in autumn, and then tilted back to its maximum 45 degrees after the last snowfall in the spring, “hopefully not in May.”

He said the timeline for the project involves the company successfully getting through a permit process, after which construction takes place. Once construction is completed, there would be an inspection by the Marquette Board of Light and Power, which then would give permission to operate the array.

Clerk Randy Ritari called the township array a “visual” project.

“Folks will see it every day when they go by, and maybe that will spur more solar in the township,” Ritari said. “That would help. I know the planning commission is working on a solar ordinance, so I think this might spark a lot of that.”

Work session with legislator

The township board on Tuesday held a work session with state Rep. Jenn Hill, D-Marquette, on a variety of topics such as roads and education.

One topic was the dark store issue that has cost municipalities millions of dollars. The Michigan Tax Tribunal has upheld the theory in which big box retailers lower the amount they pay in property taxes on the premise that the market value of their stores should be based on the sales of similarly sized properties that are vacant.

State Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Township, recently introduced legislation to move dark store cases from the tax tribunal to local circuit courts.

Hill said she is interested in a legal solution to the problem.

“Other states have made this illegal,” Hill said. “We’re going to find a way that this gets cut off at the root rather than forcing it through every circuit court in every town. That’s just eating up more of our government resources.

“What this has done is take millions and millions of dollars out of our local governments.”

Township Supervisor Lyn Durant said the township — and the community collectively — cannot recapture any of the funds it had to pay back.

However, she said, “Property should be put back on the tax rolls the way they were.”

Trustee John Markes had strong words regarding the dark store topic, calling it a “scam.”

“The tax tribunal decisions allow businesses to pad their bottom line by pulling money from the public treasuries,” Markes said.

He mentioned a “new talking point,” which involves businesses being permitted to insure the same property for more than the amount set by the tax tribunal.

“That’s not fair play,” Markes said.


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