At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, council members decided to amend plans for ground-level solar energy installations in residential zones in order to comply with public concern regarding the safety of children and the aesthetic integrity of Ann Arbor.
In a public comment, Ann Arbor resident Irma Majer voiced her concern for the safety of local children and explained the dangers of ground-level solar structures in easily accessible areas.
“By allowing unsecured, low to the ground solar accessories, we create opportunities for serious injuries to the public, particularly curious and exploring children,” Majer said.
Majer, alongside several other residents, went on to explain that while they support solar energy, they are also highly concerned for the safety of the community. Majer explained solar panels can reach extreme temperatures, causing injuries such as electrical shocks, as well as thermal burns.
“On an 82-degree day, a solar panel can reach as high as 150 to 168 degrees and cause serious burns in about one second,” Majer said.
While many residents argued for the safety of the public, others also expressed concern regarding the aesthetic nature of the solar structures themselves, saying these accessories would compromise the natural charm and beauty of Ann Arbor.
City Council responded to the public’s concern by amending the ordinance to prohibit solar structures in front yards. Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, said she agreed with the public in their concern regarding the solar structures.
“I have received a lot of input from residents overwhelmingly in opposition,” Lumm said. “It is important to indicate that in every instance residents have said that they are supporters of solar and alternate energy sources. Their objection is with allowing the solar panels in front yards.”
Councilmember Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, agreed with public commenters, moving for an amendment to the ordinance.
“I would rather council move in a different direction,” Ackerman said. “I fundamentally have questions about solar structures in front yards.”
Amid discussions regarding solar energy solutions in Ann Arbor, council members also moved to add two new full-time employees to positions within the Sustainability and Innovation Office of the Systems Planning Unit of the Public Services Area. While the movement to add two new employees passed, several council members discussed the negative impact this decision could have on the budget. Lumm expressed her concern the impact adding more employees could have on the budget process.
“I do not believe we should be making budget decisions outside of the budget process,” Lumm said. “We are making two positions permanent that were temporary, which is a long-term financial commitment.”
Lumm went on to state that recent employment decisions have added a heavy burden to the general fund.
“Assuming this tonight passes we will have added over 20 new city staff in the last two years, which is adding over $1 million of recurring annual costs to the general fund,” Lumm said.
While several members argued against the decision, including Lumm and Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, other council members expressed their enthusiasm for the movement. Chip Smith, D-Ward 5, argued that by making the two temporary employees permanent, the council could finally meet their goals in their attempts to combat climate change.
“I think this is essential,” Smith said. “There are people in this position who are temporary. When they leave, the information and knowledge goes with them, which is a significant loss in our efforts to mitigate climate change.”
Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, agreed, stating that climate change should be a priority.
“This is in line with one of our main council priorities and I am thrilled to support it,” Grand said.