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MASTER'S PROJECT: Northport Renewable Energy Community Plan


The Village of Northport intends to develop and implement a Renewable Energy Community Plan that will enable the village and township to attain their goal of becoming a 100 percent clean energy community. This collaborative effort joins the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) Master’s Project Team with the Northport Energy Action Taskforce and local leaders to: create the plan, educate the public and garner additional community support to accelerate the community’s already currently substantial progress in becoming a resilient, largely energy self-sufficient and energy efficient community. The intent is to design and implement a model which other small Michigan communities can successfully emulate.

The Village of Northport and Leelanau Township already have a portfolio of highly successful renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that have established the communities’ leadership in project design and implementation. These projects include:

  • The Northport Energy Action Taskforce (NEAT): Founded in 2008, NEAT achieved 501©3 non-profit status in 2011. NEAT broadly advances community sustainability efforts through building consensus around and effectively advancing a variety of clean energy strategies. NEAT has promoted energy efficiency and renewable energy, has secured grant funding to weatherize low-income homes, audited and weatherized homes and conducted public information programs.
  • Leelanau Community Energy LLC, a for-profit corporation founded in 2010 to qualify for renewable energy grants and subsidies. Leelanau Community Energy deployed Michigan’s first community wind project – a 120 kW wind turbine went on line in November 2012 and provides 50% of the energy for the Northport and Leelanau Township Utilities Authority (NLTUA).
  • Northport will soon be home for the United States first 100% solar powered golf course. Other solar energy systems are being designed and planned for local agricultural operations, wineries and local government owned facilities.
  • Northport was part of the MSU Small Town Design Initiative in 2008 which resulted in the successful Future by Design Project.
  • Northport is already in effect a “complete streets” community, having authorized the use of electric powered golf carts on village streets and encouraging the use of bicycles and pedestrian traffic.

Leelanau Township and the Village of Northport use approximately 30 million kW-hours per year of electricity. This energy production can be achieved with a mix of utility and residential scale solar PV, wind energy installations and efficient combined heat and power systems. We envisage a peak capacity of 25.5 megawatts of solar energy production at a cost of $76 million or $38,000 per capita. District heating with sustainable biomass could be viable. Because of unique community leadership profiles, Northport and Leelanau Township are also potential early-adoption candidate communities for advanced energy storage system development and electric vehicle promotion.

Many communities in the world have achieved 100% plus renewable energy supply. The Commune (“county”) in north-west Denmark operates integrated renewable energy systems including wind, solar, biomass, biogas, combined heat and power and district heating. Such places may be potential “Sister-City” communities providing the opportunity for future collaboration, cooperation and shared learning experiences.

SNRE Assistance:
Energy and economic models are available to simulate and demonstrate how to optimize integrated community renewable energy systems. With intern assistance from the SNRE, data inputs can be gathered and various scenarios can be assessed. Renewable energy targets and solutions can then be agreed upon by the community stakeholders. Necessary policy and financial solutions can then be selected, debated and implemented.

We will initiate strategic planning with the SNRE Team and community stakeholders to scope the project. The following are our current project component items but we will welcome other ideas.

  • Community survey and brain-storming sessions to identify issues and potential outcomes. (Northport – population 500 - attracted over 100 people to a 2012 economic development brainstorming session.)
  • Study how best to persuade citizens to accept sustainability as a community goal and participate in achieving this goal.
  • Develop a communications strategy to persuade community members to adopt renewable energy.
  • Examine the suitability and feasibility of renewable energy technologies - solar, wind, biomass, biogas, combined heat and power, energy storage.
  • Prepare cost models for homes, farms, business and local government.
  • Identify issues with utilities, such as the net-metering cap and local grid capacity, and propose policies to overcome these issues
  • Research available grant assistance, foundation support, investors and loan programs available to users.
  • Analyze and propose optimization of the renewable energy regulatory framework, meter aggregation, permitting and interconnection issues.
  • Identify barriers and strategies/options to overcome barriers and impediments.

These tasks will provide graduate students with skills and develop their interests in renewable energy technology, public policy, economics, communications and psychology. The outcome will be a community energy plan that achieves community-wide energy efficiency and renewable energy targets of 100 percent or more in 5 - 10 years.

Research Areas