Traditionally, the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission has been hesitant to allow any change to the city’s historic landmarks. But saving the environment has increasingly become a more essential component of this city’s identity. In August, the Historic District Commission’s approved the installation of solar panels at the iconic Michigan Theater on State Street. These types of environmentally-friendly initiatives are a smart move for Ann Arbor and could lead to good economic news for the state of Michigan. Students and city residents should support sustainable projects like this. Other cities in Michigan and around the country should follow Ann Arbor’s example and encourage similar green initiatives.

Led by Major John Hieftje, Ann Arbor has been at the national forefront of the green movement. Solar panels have powered the Ann Arbor Farmers Market for two years. Now, according to a Sept. 6 article in The Ann Arbor Chronicle, the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission has approved the installation of two solar projects in the historic district. One is at a private home and the other is at the Michigan Theater. The Michigan Theater project is being headed up by XSeed, a division of the Ypsilanti-based Clean Energy Coalition.

By now, most people are aware of the many benefits of using alternative energies like solar panels. Converting solar energy into power allows owners to save on electricity costs. This can make up for the cost of installation in only a few years — especially since installation costs can often be offset by federal and state tax credits. And depending less on fossil fuels like coal — which releases incredible amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as it is burns — and non-renewable resources like oil helps to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint.

And increased use of solar panels could help to jumpstart businesses in Michigan by encouraging the growth of the alternative energy industry. Many Michigan cities already have the infrastructure to manufacture these solar panels. For example, the old Wixom Ford Plant was retrofitted by two companies to produce solar panels and environmentally-friendly storage batteries in September 2009. Putting these old factories to work constructing new, energy-efficient products would create desperately-needed jobs — and hopefully draw even more alternative energy businesses to Michigan to develop a thriving new industry on which Michigan can depend.

Ann Arbor’s commitment to this ideal is setting a precedent that other communities should follow. While Ann Arbor has always put preserving the historic district at the top of its priority list, deciding to go green in the district once again proves how dedicated it is to creating a more environmentally-friendly community. Despite some objections brought up during the Historic District Commission meetings about the aesthetic effect of the panels, a commitment to sustainability won out in the end — as it should have.

Ann Arbor’s commitment to alternative energy and the successes it has to show, like the solar-powered Farmers Market and soon the Michigan Theater, are encouraging signs for individuals and businesses looking to join the green movement. The city of trees has again shown its willingness to move forward and go green. Now, other cities must follow its lead.

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