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Ann Arbor Solarize hosted a virtual Power Hour event Thursday evening to discuss the main goals the program has to move the community in the direction of carbon neutrality. The event drew about 30 people and focused on educating the Ann Arbor community on how they can utilize solar energy in their own homes.

Julie Roth — Solarize Program lead, contractor with the city and an Ann Arbor Office of Sustainability and Innovations member — has been collaborating with the OSI team since the beginning of the city’s A2Zero initiative to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. Roth currently leads Ann Arbor Solarize, a city-wide solar energy initiative, and said she was shocked upon first learning about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions.

“It took all my breath out of me,” Roth said. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing (about greenhouse gas emissions). I started looking around for ways to make an impact.”

According to Roth, residential buildings in Ann Arbor account for about 20% of community-wide greenhouse gas emissions. A2Zero consists of solutions to utilize renewable energy, electrification and energy efficiency and emphasizes the urgency with which action needs to be taken.

Currently, natural gases are used to fuel daily household necessities such as stovetops, water heaters and drying machines. Activities using items like these pull electricity from the grid, which is right now powered by fossil fuels and therefore results in greenhouse gas emissions. A viable alternative to this is the installation of solar panels. 

Soon after installing solar panels in her own home, Roth was eventually asked to become involved in Solarize. During the first gathering she hosted on the positive impacts on solar panels, Roth said she successfully helped 12 households install new solar arrays and quickly began to take the lead on the pilot program. Her work primarily relates to renewable energy regarding where electricity is coming from, how to make the grid cleaner and what people can do now in terms of on-site solar energy.

“In order to get to carbon neutrality, we have to stop burning fossil fuels,” Roth said. “We have to figure out how to use less energy to do what we’re doing.”

There are now more than 850 kilowatts of new green energy in Ann Arbor, Roth said, which is represented by 129 households that now have solar. 

OSI energy coordinator Joshua MacDonald said the team has been hosting Power Hours for just over a year now. MacDonald said they have been successful in not only spreading awareness about access to this new technology, but also in lowering cost barriers for those who could not previously afford solar panels.

“I’ve mostly been helping out on the community-wide project,” MacDonald said. “Julie’s been leading them and doing a great job with them.”

Roth said using on-site renewables, such as rooftop and ground-mount solars, are feasible and accessible ways that allow the population to collectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electrifying homes reduces emissions by avoiding the burning of fossil fuels, according to Roth.

Ann Arbor City Council declared a climate emergency in 2019, which led the Office of Sustainability and Innovation to respond with a plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, called A2Zero. The A2Zero program aims to educate the local community and involve residents in its carbon neutrality initiative. 

In a previous interview with The Michigan Daily, Matt Sehrsweeney, Climate Action Movement member and Rackham student, said Ann Arbor is making the right choice with the A2Zero program and urged the University of Michigan to take action on carbon neutrality as well. 

“It’s a really exciting and ambitious plan,” Sehrsweeney said. “CAM, as an organization, really likes that they have set a target date for carbon neutrality in 2030, which is something that our own University has not done. And that’s one of the big problems we see in the planning process here at U of M. So that’s really cool to see that the town is really ready to pull its weight and is very serious about taking steps that we need to take to respond to the climate crisis.”

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor also previously told The Daily the A2Zero plan will help root the values of sustainability and equity in the community.

“Ann Arbor 2030 will be materially different than Ann Arbor 2020,” Taylor said. “It’ll be a denser community, a more electrified community, a community that emphasizes renewable energy.”

Daily Staff Reporter Meghana Lodhavia can be reached at mlod@umich.edu

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