2016 Get Local Party

From Darkness to Light: Traverse City Leads on Renewable Energy

December 20, 2016 | |

Tomorrow, Dec. 21, is the shortest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere. We will get a brief 8 hours and 45 minutes of solar irradiation between sunrise and sunset, though much of that will be blocked by December clouds.

The Winter Solstice offers a great opportunity to reflect on the gains we’ve made as renewable energy advocates, and also the hurdles that lie ahead.

Last night the Traverse City Commission voted unanimously to adopt a goal of getting 100% of its municipal electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. Traverse City is just the third city in Michigan — and among fewer than 25, nationwide — to aim for this ambitious, yet achievable, benchmark.

Traverse City’s municipality uses approximately 11,000 megawatt hours of energy, annually — equivalent to 50 acres of solar panels or 2,000 rooftop or ground-mount solar arrays. The commission’s move is a great opportunity for the city-owned utility, Traverse City Light & Power, to invest in solar and wind in the future.

We applaud the mayor and commissioners for their leadership.

However, on the federal level, the closing weeks of 2016 have been painful for the clean energy movement, as the President Elect nominates one cabinet pick after another who is unfriendly to the environment and closely allied with the fossil fuel industry.

Here in Michigan, the state legislature last week passed an energy bill that, while calling for an estimated $2 billion worth of renewable investment over the next 5 years, is not ambitious enough to keep up with other states who are investing far more. Even more concerning, the bill authorizes a solar tariff for customers who install solar on their properties — compromising what had been relatively progressive net metering laws for Consumers Energy and DTE Energy. In the year ahead, we worry this legislation will cut the legs out from under our efforts to create local energy economies for local communities.

But the mantra “the darkest hour is just before the dawn” also rings true. With Traverse City and other communities leading the way, tomorrow’s dawn promises to be bright and beautiful. Here in Michigan and across the nation, solar projects are blooming and creating good local jobs — in Saginaw, Detroit, Ann Arbor, and here in our region.

So, with 2017 firmly in our sights, here’s a list of Top 5 Reasons we at Groundwork are optimistic about the new energy economy in 2017.

  • Traverse City just committed to a target of 100% clean energy. That would be about 100 acres of solar or 2000 rooftop and groundmount solar arrays.
  • Wolverine Power Cooperative — the electric generation cooperative that provides electricity to Cherryland Electric Cooperative and others — also just opened up 10 MW of solar to any customer in their territory.
  • Demand is at an all-time high in Michigan — with some installers already booked through the first quarter of 2017.
  • Solar panel prices in Michigan have dropped significantly in the last 3 months
  • After 25 years, the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Fair is returning to Traverse City where the conference first launched. In mid June, we plan to bring together the leading energy innovators from around the state and across the country for two days of learning, networking, and renewable deal making! Stay tuned for details.

So, as they days get longer, the sun’s rays begin to rise above those shady evergreens, and the countdown begins towards the new install season, we are ready for a quick Holiday hibernation before rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on the new energy economy.

And we look forward to June 21 — 6 months from now — when we will come together during our longest day — when 16 hours of free fuel will rain down on us — to celebrate what we have accomplished in what will surely be a bright 2017.

About The Author

Dan Worth is the Clean Energy Policy Specialist at the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. Reach him at [email protected]

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