New Analysis Shows How Communities Can Locally Produce 100 Percent Clean Energy

Let Highland Park Residents and Other Communities Choose Clean Energy

Published Oct 5, 2021

Nuestra analista energética senior Paula García está disponible para responder entrevistas en español.

Media Contact

CHICAGO (October 5, 2021)—The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the nonprofit Soulardarity have partnered to show how Highland Park, Michigan, can realize a vision of an equitable, reliable, and affordable clean energy system powered by locally-owned resources. The analysis released today, “Let Communities Choose: Clean Energy Sovereignty in Highland Park, Michigan,” is a model that could also help other communities achieve their visions of energy sovereignty.

The community of Highland Park is disproportionately burdened by air pollution, other environmental justice harms and high electricity bills. Households with the median income in the community spend 18 to 33 percent of their income on energy, while 6 percent or less is considered the baseline for affordability. In 2011, local utility DTE Energy shut off and removed over two-thirds of the neighborhood’s streetlights as it struggled to pay its electricity bills. That action was the catalyst that formed Soulardarity.

“The traditional model of communities paying utility companies for power and people not having much of a say in it isn’t working for us,” said Shimekia Nichols, executive director of Soulardarity. “Like residents in many communities, Highland Parkers want the ability to choose clean, locally-generated power and keep more of the money we spend for electricity circulating in our neighborhoods.”

“But in order for communities like Highland Park to fulfill these goals, states, utilities, and local governments need to enact sensible and progressive policies,” said James Gignac, senior Midwest energy analyst at UCS.

The recommendations include calling on:

  • The State of Michigan to require DTE Energy and other utilities to eliminate solar size restrictions so owners of homes and other buildings can use their full available rooftop space for solar, fairly pay home and business owners for the amount of energy their solar panels produce, and fund energy efficiency and solar installments so customers can pay back those costs on their monthly bills over time.
  • The state to set goals to ensure underserved people benefit from solar installations, provide tax credits or grants for people who install solar panels or batteries, and expand nonprofit green banks to provide low-cost financing.
  • The City of Highland Park to enact a solar ordinance, establish a 100% clean energy goal, and advance local policies to help drive clean energy development, develop city-owned community solar projects, and create additional low-cost financing options.
  • Congress to allow solar tax credits to be converted to cash for low-income households that aren’t paying enough in taxes to use a tax credit.

The analysis found that 100 percent of Highland Park’s electricity demand can be met with energy efficiency and clean energy generated locally by rooftop solar panels installed on homes and businesses, larger solar installations, and a community water and energy resource center that uses wastewater to generate electricity.

“Our vision is strong,” said Gracie Wooten, a Highland Park resident and Soulardarity member. “But we wanted data and modeling to back up our case to residents, officials, and utilities that the vision is real and achievable.”

Edyta Sitko, energy organizing manager at UCS, hopes this analysis will help Soulardarity in conversations with city officials. “It proves that locally-produced and owned clean energy is possible for communities like Highland Park, and can be used as a pressure point to make these changes a reality.”

While “Let Communities Choose” is focused on Highland Park and state policies in Michigan, the vision articulated in the report and the analytical methodology used is applicable to communities across the country. Recognizing that people should have the ability to choose how their electricity is provided—the right to energy sovereignty—and to choose locally-generated clean energy are the core principles of the better energy system explored in the analysis.

UCS and Soulardarity intend this work to inspire and equip other communities to further pursue their visions for more reliable, affordable, and cleaner electricity that builds wealth for their residents and businesses.