Caption: Harvest Energy Solutions' Ric Evans stood tall with his solar panels in the Michigan Clean Energy Conference in Traverse City this past June.
This past Monday I played hookie from work and, liked millions of Americans, joined my wife and our two kids to watch the solar eclipse. We drove to the historic Dechow Barn in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s Port Oneida Rural Historic District in Leelanau County and joined hundreds of others in celebrating this astronomical phenomenon as it moved across the United States. The late summer day was warm, we could smell the fresh cut grass in the field, and the cloud cover broke after 2 p.m. to offer us a good show. For nearly an hour, we collectively ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’.
The historic solar eclipse felt particularly special to us here at Groundwork, as we’ve been working hard in 2017 to celebrate the sun—as a source of income, jobs and community resilience. Farmers in northwest Michigan harvest the suns’ rays to grow the delicious local food we eat, and we have a golden opportunity to harvest millions of dollars in sunlight when it hits rooftops, parking lots, brownfields and vacant land. Fill a rooftop today with solar panels and one can earn about $1,000 per year. Fill a large commercial roof and one can pocket about $10,000 per year. Cover a 5-acre field and one reaps about $100,000 annually.
Groundwork is working hard to educate Michiganders about the economic power of the sun. Just two months ago, on the Summer Solstice, 300 of us gathered at the Michigan Clean Energy Conference & Fair to celebrate the progress Michigan has made, and contemplate how to accelerate that progress. Our keynote speakers were accomplished global leaders, Mary Powell (who is driving a clean energy revolution in Vermont) and former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm (who has spent the past two decades advocating for clean energy solutions in Michigan and now at the University of California). Breakout sessions included discussions about municipalities adopting 100 percent renewable energy goals and how to enact community solar. Watch videos of Powell’s and Granholm’s keynotes, as well as breakout sessions on the Up North Media Center’s channel.
Our event host, Northwestern Michigan College (NMC), did an amazing job of transforming its Aeropark Laboratories campus into a conference venue. As a result, Michigan’s energy leaders were thinking big-picture solutions in the same building where community college students train daily to fill the jobs that will be created by implementing those solutions.
The June 24 Clean Energy Conference was a success! We’re already witnessing results. Last month, Traverse City leaders worked with our city-owned utility, Traverse City Light & Power, to create an agreement to purchase the electricity from a 5-acre field just west of Traverse City on M-72—right next to the wind turbine. When those 3,000 solar panels are built, I will take my kids to the ribbon cutting, and we will ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ about the sun once again.
Plans for next year’s clean energy conference are already underway. (Stay tuned for dates and details.) From a kickoff solstice party on Old Mission Peninsula, to day of clean energy leadership discussions at NMC’s Hagerty Center, to an even bigger and better clean energy economy celebration, the 2018 event will be designed to reach across aisles, borders, age groups, and cultures to aggregate and accelerate all the benefits of local energy. We hope you’ll join us.