June 3, 2020


Connecting People

Solar for the People | Michigan Technological University News

L’Anse leverages utility and university partnerships, as well as the know-how of its
biggest asset, its citizens, to build group solar.

The village of L’Anse is a compact town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on Lake Superior’s
Keweenaw Bay. While little, the group has something large to boast about: A 340-panel,
one hundred ten.5 kilowatt (kW) group solar array. 

The notion behind the array, which is situated in the village’s Lambert Road Industrial
Park just west of town, is that renewable strength should be obtainable to all, regardless
of income. Soon after functioning on an economic advancement research with the Western Upper Peninsula
Scheduling & Progress Area (WUPPDR), the village identified it would be beneficial
to have a renewable strength ingredient as part of its industrial park, and commenced functioning
with Michigan Technological College school and learners on specialized and social
features of undertaking such a project.

L’Anse is a single of 2,000 communities across the nation with its have municipal electrical
utility. Founded for the profit of all those they serve, these not-for-financial gain utilities
emphasis on serving regional requirements reliably, affordably and with renewable strength selections
customers want.

“We put in an eleven.four kW solar array at our h2o treatment plant a few several years back,”
claimed Bob LaFave, village supervisor and doctoral applicant in environmental and strength policy at Michigan Tech. “We were being experiencing some discounts. A group solar array match
properly in just our economic advancement tactic, and it would help make the technological innovation
available to any person in the group who was interested in having something like this

LaFave arrived at out to Richelle Winkler and Chelsea Schelly, both associate professors
in the Office of Social Sciences, and to Jay Meldrum, director of the Keweenaw Exploration Center. The Michigan Tech researchers break up the task in two: specialized feasibility and
social feasibility.

Offering the Task the Eco-friendly Mild

Meldrum is Michigan Tech’s govt director of sustainability and advisor to the
Alternate Vitality Organization crew some of the learners in the Enterprise chose to help with the specialized facet
of the task. They created a report in 2015 about how much the task would price
to install, no matter whether it would fork out for alone moderately and no matter whether the chosen industrial
web-site would match the task well.

A favorable specialized report in hand, the future phase of the task was to identify
no matter whether the group of L’Anse noticed worth in the task. Local community solar feasibility
depends upon interested group members willing to invest in entry to a panel (or
several panels). In return, they see discounts on their utility payments.

Emily Prehoda ’16 ’19, who was a doctoral student at the time, conducted first interviews in the group and the crew hosted a well-attended
group assembly. From there, learners in Winkler’s Communities and Exploration course
conducted surveys, hosted extra group conferences and walked doorway-to-doorway to
chat with group customers.

Communities & Research 

SS 4700: Communities and Exploration is a rural sociology course open up to all majors that
analyzes the sustainability of rural communities (socially, environmentally, economically
and culturally). Students observe analysis competencies even though generating a change in enhancing
group daily life. Previous programs have analyzed generating geothermal strength from mine
websites, group recycling, group walkability for schoolchildren, local food programs
and group incorporation and dissolution. 

“We assumed people today would like group solar because they’re environmentalists or
because they want to preserve dollars on utility payments,” Winkler claimed. “From the group
conferences, we uncovered people today were being excited about the group aspect of it. They claimed,
‘We can be leaders, we can be happy of our group, we can occur with each other to get
things performed when we want to.’”

There are other advantages to group solar. Participants share strength generation,
can capitalize on a sunny location even if their residences are surrounded by shade
trees and have servicing requirements lined by village staff members. Also on L’Anse’s facet is
the assistance of its municipal wholesale ability provider, WPPI Vitality. Contrary to an trader-owned
utility, not-for-financial gain WPPI is owned by L’Anse and 50 other like-minded communities.

Brett Niemi, a WPPI strength solutions agent serving L’Anse and its municipal
electrical utility, claimed that even though he’s worked on other group solar initiatives in
his function, functioning with a university this time close to eased the increasing pains that
can occur with these initiatives.

“Working with Michigan Tech, we were being ready to enhance the ability set of our utility
crew, specifically when performing social feasibility research,” Niemi claimed. “As utilities,
we’re superior at constructing solar PV initiatives, but we’re not as superior as when it comes to
the social and feasibility facet. We’ve superior uncovered how to properly engage with
group customers, and we have introduced marketplace knowledge the group and researchers
necessary. It is a symbiotic romantic relationship.”

Here Comes the Solar

L’Anse crafted and commenced applying its solar array in late summertime 2019, generating it the third
group in the Upper Peninsula (after Escanaba and Marquette) and the very first in the
western UP to do so. Even though there are currently 340 panels, there is area for extra.
In its strength approach, the village secured grant funding to help make panel purchases
affordable for people today from various fiscal backgrounds, like payment plans
and plans to help low-income family members take part. LaFave hopes the task will
demonstrate so preferred they’ll want extra panels.

“This can ideally be utilized as a model for other communities,” LaFave claimed. “It could
help other communities get entry to this technological innovation for their people. And this
has been an possibility for Michigan Tech to go away its fingerprints in the regional communities
close to the College and have a favourable impression on people.”

The group solar task in L’Anse is just a single case in point of how communities and universities,
functioning with each other, can grow concepts into realities.

Michigan Technological College is a community analysis university, property to extra than
7,000 learners from 54 nations around the world. Started in 1885, the College delivers extra than
one hundred twenty undergraduate and graduate diploma plans in science and technological innovation, engineering,
forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and
social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway
and is just a few miles from Lake Excellent.