Troy Michigan Celebrated Solar House Left in Dark

Facility touted as next big thing still shut

Shawn D. Lewis / The Detroit News

Friday, May 15, 2009

In the photo this $900,000 “house” looks like a single wide mobile home and by its square footage it would seem so.  

Troy -- It was supposed to be a shining example of the green movement -- a completely independent solar-powered house with no gas or electrical hookups.

Seven months ago, officials gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the $900,000 house owned by the city of Troy that was to be used as an educational tool and meeting spot.

But it never opened to the public. And it remains closed.

Frozen pipes during the winter caused $16,000 in damage to floors, (With no gas or electric living in the Icy cold winter temps of Michigan and prolonged winter darkness what were its builders thinking – it is not technologically feasible on solar power to heat this building in Michigan’s climate.) and city officials aren't sure when the house at the Troy Community Center will open.

"It's not safe right now, (One wonders what kind of floor damage they are talking about? They caved in? they are all warped and twisted?)  and there's no estimated opening time because it depends on when we can get funding," said Carol Anderson, director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

That surprised (Surprised that this $900,000 albatross went down in flames) the Oakland County Planning and Economic Development Department, (Oakland as in California???)  which advertised tours of the house for its Tuesday Oakland County Green Summit.

"No, I didn't know anything about it," said Steve Huber, spokesman for county planning.

Bret Rasegnan, planning supervisor for the department, said the solar tours have been removed from the finalized agenda for the summit.

"It is disappointing that we can't tour, but the summit will still be of great value. I don't think it's reflective of the technology."

Lawrence Technological University, with help from DTE, mostly paid for the building. Its students built the 800-square-foot home, which was supposed to be livable year-round, free from the grid and churn out enough solar power to support a home-based business and electric vehicle.

So what caused the flood?

The city says it was a mechanical problem. University officials heard it differently.

Jeff Biegler, superintendent of parks for the city, said the flooding occurred from a glitch in the heater.

"The system was designed to kick a heater on to keep water from freezing," Biegler said. "The heater drew all reserve power out of the battery causing the system to back down and the pipes froze." (With little or  no sunlight during winter -- the batteries ran out [This is not a glitch, this is a complete failure in design to accommodate the climate in which this million dollar albatross was dumped])