Elk Rapids solar energy explored

Solar panels like these by Heritage Sustainable Energy in Traverse City are being explored for installation on public land near the wastewater treatment plant in Elk Rapids.

ELK RAPIDS — The future looks bright for the concept of placing solar panels on Elk Rapids' village-owned property.

Elected officials in Elk Rapids last week told a sales representative for Grand Rapids-based Powerhome Solar & Roofing they want to learn more about the possibilities.

"It's about time," said Barbara Mullaly, president pro-tem, told Larry Knight, the sales rep. "I think we are ready."

Knight said he did not yet need a financial commitment, just an indication whether they want to pursue it before developing a more detailed proposal.

Early indications are the old dump that's filled in near the village's wastewater treatment plant may be a good spot to install solar panels, depending on the results of ground tests, Knight said.

It will take some calculations to determine the time needed to pay for the solar equipment through utility savings, he said, before the village begins to shave down its electric bills.

"We've got some engineering work to do," Knight said.

Marcus Evans, the village's public works superintendent, said the newly hired Nathan Callison has some experience with the benefits of adding solar panels to offset utility costs at wastewater treatment facilities. Callison recently came to Elk Rapids from Northport in Leelanau County, where officials installed solar panels and a wind turbine.

Callison worked at the Northport wastewater treatment plant both before and after the installation of solar panels, where he said officials observed a 66 percent decrease in electric costs at the facility.

Village Manager Bill Cooper said officials want to start at the wastewater treatment plant, but also look at renewable energy generation options for the village's harbor and even the administration building.

Knight said the company will get to work investigating solar options within the village, with expectations to report back in July.

Royce Ragland, chairwoman for the volunteer organization Green Elk Rapids, said the village is ready for this type of public renewable energy project. "This community is really aware and embracing it," she said.

Dan Worth, clean energy program director for Traverse City-based Groundworks Center for Resilient Communities, said what Elk Rapids is doing sets it apart as an example to other small communities in the area.

"Oftentimes we end up trying to convince a city to do this and it takes some convincing," Worth said, adding Elk Rapids needed none of that since it launched this idea on its own.

Worth said Elk Rapids taking the lead on solar energy systems in Antrim County could lead to more conversations with other municipalities there, marching toward a broad regional renewable energy goal. Groundworks also advocates for communities' efforts to strive toward 100 percent clean energy use.

Powerhome Solar & Roofing first began in 2006 as Rescomm, but re-branded itself five years ago. The company specializes in both residential and commercial solar systems.