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Leelenau Township - 100% Renewable Energy

PV panels in the golf course | Photo credit: Northport Energy Action Task Force (also: “NEAT” or “Northport Energy”)

Photovoltaic panels in the field. | Photo credit: Northport Energy Action Task Force (also: “NEAT” or “Northport Energy”)

100% Renewable Energy Goal:
100% renewable energy for Leelenau Township

Leenlanau Township, Michigan


Leelenau Township is located in the midwestern state of Michigan and is home to approximately 2000 people. The area is well known for its cherry industry and for summer tourism, with its location on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Within the Township is Northport, a village of 526 citizens (2010 U.S. Census) with an area of 1.65 square miles located near the tip of Leelanau Peninsula, where a group of local leaders decided that the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy are worth a ground up effort to transition the Township to 100% renewable energy.

To enable the Township to attain the goal of getting 100% of its energy from local renewable sources, local university students and activist leaders have come together to develop a Renewable Energy Community Plan  This effort joins the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) Master’s Project Team with the Northport Energy Action Taskforce (NEAT), a local non-profit, all volunteer, community based organization of about 25 – 30 members that meets monthly to advocate and pursue actionable, metered renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. NEAT's members include senior retired professionals, farmers, government committee members, and others with influence in the community.

The team is committed to creating the plan, educating the public and garnering additional community support to accelerate the community’s already currently substantial progress in becoming a resilient, largely energy self-sufficient and energy efficient community. Their intent is to design and implement a model which other small Michigan communities can successfully emulate. The university students, which began their work in May 2014 and hope to wrap it up in April 2015, will focus on the plan to supply the Leelanau-Northport's 30 million kilowatt hour annual electricity use with renewables.  NEAT will expand the plan to include the heating and transportation sectors.

Several renewable power installations have already put the Township on track to achieve the 100 percent goal, including a community wind turbine that helps power a local wastewater treatment plant, the solar powered Northport Creek Golf course, and other solar energy systems planned for local agricultural operations, wineries and government facilities. Some residents have installed renewable energy and efficiency upgrades in their homes, like NEAT President Doug McInness who uses a geothermal unit to heat and cool his 2,300-square-foot home and 32 rooftop solar to meet about half of his and his wife’s electricity needs.

So far, there is evidence of broad support within the community for the initiative. The graduate student team completed a survey of the 2,000 township property with over a 30% response rate.  71% of those who responded indicated they were “very” or “somewhat” supportive of the 100% renewable energy plan.  The planners intend to be sensitive to local concerns, such as not obstructing shoreline views with wind turbines.

Among the financing models being explored in the plan are community owned projects like a community solar farm in which multiple community members own a stake.

While there is no concrete deadline yet for attaining the 100% renewable goal, planners have estimated that at least the 100% renewable electricity goal could be met within 10 years. It is all starting with a community driven vision and local citizens who are willing to take the lead.

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