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MASTER'S PROJECT: 100% Renewable Energy Plan for Leelanau County, MI


Goals and Objectives:

A ten-year, 100% renewable energy plan for Leelanau County encompassing electricity and thermal (space and water heat) energy.  The plan will incorporate the planning, permitting and installation of 1,000 kW (1 MW) of distributed solar photovoltaics as a first implementation phase. Transport/mobility energy, such as facilitation of electric vehicles, will be considered depending on student interest and time constraints.  The plan will build on the 2015 U of M SNRE graduate study (See website for plan).  It will update, expand and extrapolate this study of Leelanau Township (population 2,000), to Leelanau County (population 22,000).

Theoretical Justification and Significance:

For the last decade there has been a major international movement in the planning and implementation of 100% renewable energy communities.  These plans address fundamental climate change drivers such as electrical energy and transportation derived CO2 increases. Many communities, states and islands have met, or with formal resolutions, are targeting the goal of 100% renewable energy.  Many universities, (such as Stanford (Dr. Mark Z Jacobson)), Lappeenranta University (Finland), have activities relate to 100% renewable energy planning. Dr. Hermann Scheer (d) has established the theoretical justification and social benefits in his many works, including his last book prior to his death, The Energy Imperative: 100% Renewable Energy Now, Dr. Hermann Scheer, Earthscan 2012.

Specific Activities & Duration:

Northport Energy is an “action” focused energy group, measuring success in installed wind and solar clean energy systems which have been initiated through the encouragement and investments of the organization members (see website: “Northport Energy: Community Action for Clean Energy”). We are considered to have, per capita, the largest percentage of community-owned renewable energy for a Michigan entity.  To facilitate future installations there is a need for renewable energy project management to be incorporated into village, township and county Master Plans, zoning ordinances, building codes and permitting processes, local utility regulations, and actions for integration of distributed energy among utilities.  Public acceptance of renewable energy initiatives will be promoted through public events sponsored by community and industry organizations – eg. League of Women Voters, Leelanau wine industry, Chamber of Commerce.

Students with engineering and technical concentrations will have an opportunity to assist in planning, design and installation of renewable energy projects.  Web-based monitoring, reporting and IT tasks are available. Paid summer renewable energy construction work should be available.

The final plan, 100% Renewable Energy for Leelanau County, will be supported by integration of the planning, energy resource assessments, site and system proposals, economics, financing, zoning, permitting and utility policy endeavors from students, depending upon each area of concentration. The 2015 U of M study provides baseline data and analysis that can simplify the tasks, extrapolating information and data from the township study level to the county. Wind, solar, biofuels, thermal and electric storage systems will be analyzed by students, based on existing countywide data. For example, to reach 100% solar energy (annual net) for Leelanau Township electric consumption, it is estimated that 18 MW’s or 95 acres of solar arrays are needed. Expansion to county-wide 100% solar would require roughly 1,000 acres with substantial electric load balance and location issues that must be considered.  Integrating wind and energy storage will compliment solar electric systems to be planned by the student study.

Solar and wind electric installations in the community connected with Consumers Energy and Cherryland Electric Cooperative (with their generation cooperative, Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative) represent the highest per capita community-owned renewables in Michigan. In 2018 there are five to ten projects on track that will continue to make the community a leader in Michigan. Cherryland Electric / Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative renewable policies will be drivers for these projects.  The students will tabulate existing and planned renewable generation systems to provide a database for accurately measuring the status and progress towards the 100% goal.

Leelanau County encompasses eleven townships, three villages and several township based communities.  Each township and village has zoning and permitting authority. Northport Energy members will assist the students in reviewing planning and zoning regulations to determine which may need revisions.  This will facilitate the timely installation of residential and commercial solar and wind energy systems.  Three electric utilities serve the county – Cherryland Electric Cooperative, (a rural electrical cooperative); Consumers Energy, an investor-owned utility (IOU); Traverse City Light and Power, a public power municipal utility. The cooperative and municipal electric utilities have the local authority to set their electric rates and rate structures. Consumers Energy is subject to the State of Michigan Public Service Commission rate-setting processes. Northport Energy will work with the students to propose and promote “21st Century” electric rate structures to advance renewable energy systems, including off-peak energy storage rates, electric vehicle charging rates, fair solar net metering rates (including “value of solar” studies), feed-in-tariffs, in-bill financing, community solar, distributed generation and other rates to encourage economic and efficient utilization of the electrical energy. Displacement of natural gas, propane and heating oil by renewable electricity should be an important objective of the plan. Students interested in energy efficiency, residential and commercial HVAC, electrical and energy storage systems can assist in this aspect of the project.

To focus on “community acceptance” a county-wide presentation will be made by the U of M SEAS team.  A likely venue should be a Leelanau County League of Women’s Voters public forum. These events are widely advertised and usually are attended by fifty to one hundred citizens.

The duration of the project will be roughly 14 to 18 months, from project initiation to graduation.

Integrative Approach:

This project is integrative by its nature. Students with concentrations that interface in any way with energy can apply their skills. Student interests related to communication, planning, policy, design, regulations, permitting, project siting, installation, IT, financing, economics, community education, environmental assessment, utility operations, system integration, electric rates, engineering, resource assessment, energy analysis, and construction are applicable.

Northport Energy Action Taskforce (NEAT)
Research Areas