Art’s gets rooftop solar panels

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Glen Arbor hotspot embraces renewable energy; still no credit cards

By Jacob Wheeler
Sun editor

Just before Christmas, Ian Olmsted and a team from Peninsula Solar completed the installation of 70 rooftop solar panels above the Art’s Annex, the former gas station turned t-shirt shop next to the popular tavern in downtown Glen Arbor. The solar array will generate 30,000 kilowatt hours annually —satisfying 15-20 percent of Art’s energy load.

The Peninsula Solar crew, who Olmsted reports were fed and provided for during the two-week job, first installed specially engineered racks on the flat roof that allowed the Canadian-made panels to be tilted at a 15-degree angle to the south. Fourteen of the panels were designed to create an awning over the back of the building. Art’s employees can now run errands between the kitchen and the annex without getting rained or snowed on.

“This was a solid project, and a demonstration of what you can do with roof space in a little town like Glen Arbor,” said Olmsted, who grew up downstate and moved to Leelanau County as a teenager.

Art’s owners Tim Barr and Bonnie Nescot initially began thinking about installing solar panels after talking with the late Don Lessard, a local solar energy champion and founder of miPHOTON.

Lessard passed away suddenly in October 2014, just days after doing a site survey for a solar array on the property of my parents, Norm and Mimi Wheeler. “He believed in living lightly on this earth and was passionate in helping others in this mission,” read Lessard’s obituary in the Traverse City Record-Eagle. Don’s wife Rebecca, who runs the raptor rehabilitation center Wings of Wonder, introduced my folks to the national solar installation company Harvest Energy Solutions, which installed panels in their meadow beyond the vintage apple trees the following July to harness the energy of the sun.

Meanwhile, the local solar energy sector has grown, as more and more businesses, municipalities and homeowners are taking advantage of state net metering incentives and jumping at the opportunity to reduce their electricity bills while using renewable energy that doesn’t pollute the earth and contribute to climate change. Cherry Republic added rooftop solar 10 years ago to its Glen Arbor store; Black Star Farms near Suttons Bay followed suit in 2015; the city owned utility Traverse City Light & Power completed its impressive solar array next to the windmill on M-72 this past September, and Leelanau Fruit is currently in the process of installing what is likely the largest privately owned solar panel array in northern Michigan.

The trend is happening across the state. According to Michigan’s Public Service Commission, 2,582 residential, commercial and industrial customers participated in the state’s net metering program in 2016, an increase of 527 from 2015 (last year’s stats are not yet available).

Solar fever is particularly acute in the Burdickville neighborhood, just east of the Glen Lakes. Last summer Gary Cozette and Joe Lada installed rooftop solar on the “tower house” which affords a majestic view of the lakes and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Tom and Alice Van Zoeren and Jim and Kelly Lively also recently installed solar at their homes.

Now add Art’s Tavern to that mix. Barr and Nescot recommitted to rooftop solar on their business after they met Olmsted and Peninsula Solar last June at the Michigan Clean Energy Conference & Fair at Northwestern Michigan College’s Aeropark campus in Traverse City. The Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities organized the fair together with the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association to bring renewable energy luminaries such as former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm and Green Mountain Power (Vermont) CEO Mary Powell to speak, but also to connect interested homeowners and business owners with solar installers. The conference and fair will take place again this coming June 22-23.

For Tim Barr, as for many homeowners who are springing for solar, the decision is economic as much as it is moral.

“We pull so much from Consumer’s Energy that even this 15 percent we’re using ourselves will save us a lot,” said Barr. “We’ve living in an oil bubble right now. Prices are down, but we’ve seen that go in cycles over the years.”

It’s ironic, or perhaps fitting, that Art’s now embraces solar—the energy source of the future—but still doesn’t accept credit cards inside the tavern (the annex next door has an ATM machine).

“We’ve got to draw a line somewhere,” said Barr. “You put that (credit card) down, and your money is out there in voodoo land. You can’t see it, you can’t feel it, you can’t touch it. It’s just a whole lot easier with the math to have no credit cards.”

Kind of like the solar energy one can see, feel and touch during Glen Arbor’s radiant summer?

“That’s a good way of putting it,” Barr chuckled.

Watch a video of Barr discussing Art’s rooftop solar panels at