- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

THOMAS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - For Tim Morningstar, having a home powered by the sun has nearly been a lifelong dream.

The 32-year-old Thomas Township man, who works in information technology as a systems administrator for Health Delivery, has always loved science and technology.

“I would be that kid that would spend more time playing in RadioShack and with electronics than being outside, like a normal kid,” Morningstar recalled.

It was there, at the age of 7 or 8, that he saw a solar cell and got an idea.

“I remember saying to my mom, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if you could power an entire house with solar?’”

About 25 years later, Morningstar’s childhood dream is becoming a reality. “There are 60 cells in total, per panel, and the panel produces a total of 270 watts,” Morningstar said.

That’s a total of 8,640 watts, enough to meet his electricity needs, The Saginaw News (https://bit.ly/Ztlvgn ) reported.


Earlier this year, Suniva officials announced plans to open a new solar module assembly factory in Saginaw Township, formerly a Sears Warehouse.

Construction at the site is coming along, and officials expect production to begin sometime this quarter.

“Three or four key variables all came together to create a good environment for us to be here,” said Matt Card, vice president of global sales and marketing for the Norcross, Georgia-based company.

“The workforce is key. The state support has been top notch. The proximity to … supply partners and then the relatively centralized location of Michigan has helped us because it helps us manage costs distributing both east and west. And there’s a good transportation infrastructure.”

Morningstar said Suniva’s move to Saginaw County swayed him.

“Suniva chose to invest in my home, so I chose to invest in them,” he said.

Morningstar opted not to have the panels installed on his roof because he expects to have to replace it within the next several years. Instead, the panels are mounted on a metal structure about 11 feet tall at its highest point in his backyard.

The new solar panel setup is one of a few things Morningstar is doing in the name of sustainability.

He drives a Chevrolet Volt, he’s installing a high-efficiency furnace in his home, and he plans to eventually improve insulation and invest in new windows, among other things.

When Morningstar bought the Volt in May, he recalled thinking, “it would be cool to be able to drive on sunshine.”


Sam Garten, owner of Solar Sales of Michigan and Salvatore Contracting, said he’s noticed increased demand for solar in the last several years.

“All over the state of Michigan,” Garten said. “We do jobs everywhere.”

Garten estimates he’s installed solar for 45 residential customers and for 40 to 60 businesses.

“This was a pretty cool deal. Tim got qualified for Michigan Saves, and we’re one of the certified contractors in the state of Michigan to coordinate doing the solar installs for Michigan,” he said.

Michigan Saves is a nonprofit, originally funded by the Michigan Public Service Commission, that provides loans to businesses and residential customers for energy improvements, Morningstar explained.

“For residential customers, like myself, they provide up to $30,000, and I was able to get an unsecured loan for the full amount at 4.99 percent, which means my monthly payment on that is going to be $319 a month over the next 10 years,” he said.

“My goal was to replace or eliminate my monthly Consumers (Energy) bill, replace that with a loan payment, and then, after 10 years, never have a Consumers bill again, while adding equity into my home.”

Morningstar said he won’t be paying much more per month than he was before, he didn’t have to put any money down and the loan application process was simple.

Morningstar said he’s also getting a 30 percent federal tax credit back on the solar installation, which he can apply toward the loan or other home improvements.

The panels have an output warranty of 25 years, but they could work for decades after.

“Even after 25 years, the panels are guaranteed to produce at least 80 percent of their original rated output,” he said. “So, the panels do degrade over time, but it’s really, really gradual.”

Garten added, “They could last up to 40, 50 years of output. Not 100 percent, but output, so still getting return on your investment.”

Garten said the solar panels are durable and can stand up to extreme weather.

“We have not had one call on a broken panel,” he said. “It’s tough stuff.”


Morningstar and Garten believe his house is the first in Thomas Township with this technology.

Morningstar said he didn’t need any special permits to do the project, because the township has no ordinances in place. Only an electrical permit was needed.

Garten said township officials were supportive.

“Generally, people are,” he said. “They like what we do.”

Thomas Township Manager Russell Taylor could not immediately be reached for comment.

Morningstar said his neighbors don’t seem to mind, either.

“I haven’t heard anything,” he said. “I would think no news is good news.”

Morningstar said he wants to raise awareness of the funding options available for residents considering solar for their homes.

“I don’t think they know about it, and that’s why I want to tell the world. I want everyone to know,” he said. “I saw so many people, last winter, suffer from high energy bills because of the brutal winter that we had.”

Morningstar said he had to dig for information and happened to stumble upon the Michigan Saves website while researching solar.

“A lot of people don’t do this stuff because it’s a lot of money required up front. Well, the Michigan Saves program makes it affordable, and a lot of people don’t know that that program exists. They don’t know how solar works. They don’t think that it works on cloudy days. Well, actually, it does.”

In fact, silicon functions better in cooler temperatures, Morningstar said.

“Say it’s 100 degrees in the desert and it’s 70 degrees here, but the sun is still shining and the sky is clear, the panel will actually be more efficient here in Michigan.”


Information from: The Saginaw News, https://www.mlive.com/saginaw

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