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Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

Duggan announces Detroit’s first three solar districts

By meerna Jun25,2024
Duggan announces Detroit’s first three solar districts

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan announced Monday that the first three neighborhoods will be selected to participate in a project to turn blighted lots into solar farms that will help power city buildings.

Last year, Duggan unveiled his plan to convert 127 city buildings from 33 megawatts of fossil fuel energy to solar energy by installing six adjacent solar fields totaling 200 acres. The city hopes the fields will reduce its $8 million annual energy bill by $4.4 million.

Since then, 18 districts have applied, and officials have narrowed the list of finalists to eight. On Monday, Duggan announced that the Gratiot/Findlay, Van Dyke/Lunch and State Fair districts would be selected for the first phase. Combined, these three areas would create a total of 104 acres of solar panels.

Phase two will begin in 2025 with three more districts and will take approximately two years to build.

“Detroit can take real action to fight climate change and address the city’s worst blights,” Duggan said during a news conference on Fairport Street on the city’s east side. “Detroit is now becoming the center of Michigan’s fight to address climate change, and we’re doing that while helping neighborhoods that feel like they’ve been forgotten.”

The city selected Lightstar Renewables, a Boston-based company with 20 solar fields across the country, to build the State Fair grounds and Gratiot/Findlay districts; and DTE Energy, which has already built three solar fields, will build on the Van Dyke/Lynch site.

The agreements with both energy partners last for 35 years, but Duggan said that once the agreements expire, the utilities must return the land to the green parks if they are no longer used to generate solar energy.

Energy still goes to the grid and not to your neighbors. Michigan utilities must provide 100% clean energy to the grid by 2040, under the clean energy package that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law last year. This may include renewable energy sources, nuclear and fossil fuels with carbon capture.

About $14 million in the cost of purchasing and contracting the work comes from an energy conversion fund that was allocated during the city’s 2013 bankruptcy.

By the time the solar fields are completed and the power is sold to the grid, the project will cost the city about $3.5 million a year. But Duggan said the city currently spends $2.5 million a year in the three neighborhoods to combat blight, including cleaning up illegal dumping sites and providing additional police patrols – expenses that won’t be necessary once the solar fields are installed. So the actual cost to the city will be closer to $1 million a year, he added.

“I think $1 million is a small price to pay to restore neighborhoods to all the residents who lived there,” he said.

Neighbors moving

The city offered homeowners in the targeted neighborhoods financial compensation to relocate to make room for the project. In the first three neighborhoods, 21 homeowners agreed to move for at least $90,000 each; houses will be razed to the ground and solar panels will be installed in their place. Tenants also receive 18 months of free rent and relocation assistance if they need to move.

For those who want to stay, the city will set up solar panels around their homes and provide $15,000 to $20,000 in energy-saving upgrades to offset the inconvenience of the project.

“We are not pushing one landlord to build these solar fields, and so far the tenants love it,” Duggan said. “We designed these neighborhoods according to the wishes of the neighbors.”

It’s a big undertaking, Duggan said. More than 900 lots will be needed in the first phase, and Duggan said he feels good about offering vacant landowners and renters a “fair market value” for the properties, “but they don’t deserve to enrich their neighborhoods with land that’s been sitting vacant.”

“We are going to invest and make sure the neighborhoods around this area thrive,” Duggan said.

Overall, Councilman Coleman A. Young II stated that 30% of Detroit residents are “energy burdened”, meaning their energy costs exceed 6% of their household income.

“This is crucial because we will have a better environment and cleaner air because we eliminate environmental racism and invest in clean, renewable energy,” Young said. “It will beautify neighborhoods, and the best thing people can do with their lives is something that will last this life.”

City Councilor Scott Benson, who chairs the Green Task Force and worked on the initiative, was unable to attend because he was chairing another council meeting. District 7 Councilor Fred Durhal III spoke in his place, saying the council supports him.

The Durhal district was the first to locate a DTE solar field at the O’Shea Solar Park in the Plymouth-I-96 district. It produces enough electricity to power about 450 homes and will generate about $1.4 million in city tax revenue over 20 years.

“We’re looking forward to the second phase, but those people who will be there can still use the first phase and consent, so say this is the new Detroit and we’re taking steps to make the city cleaner for our children,” Durhal said.

The residents were waiting for this

Tammy Black, CEO of Community Powers, a nonprofit that in a separate initiative installed solar panels on the roofs of 25 Jefferson Chalmers homes, said the moment to embrace solar power has been a long time coming.

“I’ve been waiting for this because I’ve been on this adventure for years,” Black said. “We are looking for contractors to hire us so that our workforce development teams can not only help the city, but also their families and get the city to where it needs to be environmentally friendly.”

Jean Holt, a State Fair resident for 53 years, remembers when her neighborhood was full of children, not plague.

“The community was very supportive and you had everything you could need in this community… but now, unfortunately, this neighborhood has had its day. Everything around me suddenly became exhausted. So what is our solution? one day I heard a knock on the door and it was a godsend. I don’t see anything else to fix this at the moment, but the children of our generation need more for their future.

Maesha Parker, who lives in Gratiot-Findlay and is president of the Caring Neighborhood Block Club, supports the solar district because she would rather teach kids how to keep busy rather than get used to blight.

“When it came, we felt blessed and safe. Thank you for choosing us to be here and speak on behalf of our neighbors,” she said.

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By meerna

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