100% Renewable Energy Plan for Leelanau County, MI

Client Organization: 
Northport Energy
Project Location : 
Northport, MI, USA
Summary of Project Idea: 

Goals and Objectives:

A ten-year, 100% renewable energy plan for Leelanau County encompassing electricity and thermal (space and water heat) energy.  The plan will incorporate the planning, permitting and installation of 1,000 kW (1 MW) of distributed solar photovoltaics as a first implementation phase. Transport/mobility energy, such as facilitation of electric vehicles, will be considered depending on student interest and time constraints.  The plan will build on the 2015 U of M SNRE graduate study (See www.northportenergy.org website for plan).  It will update, expand and extrapolate this study of Leelanau Township (population 2,000), to Leelanau County (population 22,000).

Theoretical Justification and Significance:

For the last decade there has been a major international movement in the planning and implementation of 100% renewable energy communities.  These plans address fundamental climate change drivers such as electrical energy and transportation derived CO2 increases. Many communities, states and islands have met, or with formal resolutions, are targeting the goal of 100% renewable energy.  Many universities, (such as Stanford (Dr. Mark Z Jacobson)), Lappeenranta University (Finland), have activities relate to 100% renewable energy planning. Dr. Hermann Scheer (d) has established the theoretical justification and social benefits in his many works, including his last book prior to his death, The Energy Imperative: 100% Renewable Energy Now, Dr. Hermann Scheer, Earthscan 2012.

Specific Activities & Duration:

Northport Energy is an “action” focused energy group, measuring success in installed wind and solar clean energy systems which have been initiated through the encouragement and investments of the organization members (see www.northportenergy.org website: “Northport Energy: Community Action for Clean Energy”). We are considered to have, per capita, the largest percentage of community-owned renewable energy for a Michigan entity.  To facilitate future installations there is a need for renewable energy project management to be incorporated into village, township and county Master Plans, zoning ordinances, building codes and permitting processes, local utility regulations, and actions for integration of distributed energy among utilities.  Public acceptance of renewable energy initiatives will be promoted through public events sponsored by community and industry organizations – eg. League of Women Voters, Leelanau wine industry, Chamber of Commerce.

Students with engineering and technical concentrations will have an opportunity to assist in planning, design and installation of renewable energy projects.  Web-based monitoring, reporting and IT tasks are available. Paid summer renewable energy construction work should be available.

The final plan, 100% Renewable Energy for Leelanau County, will be supported by integration of the planning, energy resource assessments, site and system proposals, economics, financing, zoning, permitting and utility policy endeavors from students, depending upon each area of concentration. The 2015 U of M study provides baseline data and analysis that can simplify the tasks, extrapolating information and data from the township study level to the county. Wind, solar, biofuels, thermal and electric storage systems will be analyzed by students, based on existing countywide data. For example, to reach 100% solar energy (annual net) for Leelanau Township electric consumption, it is estimated that 18 MW’s or 95 acres of solar arrays are needed. Expansion to county-wide 100% solar would require roughly 1,000 acres with substantial electric load balance and location issues that must be considered.  Integrating wind and energy storage will compliment solar electric systems to be planned by the student study.

Solar and wind electric installations in the community connected with Consumers Energy and Cherryland Electric Cooperative (with their generation cooperative, Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative) represent the highest per capita community-owned renewables in Michigan. In 2018 there are five to ten projects on track that will continue to make the community a leader in Michigan. Cherryland Electric / Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative renewable policies will be drivers for these projects.  The students will tabulate existing and planned renewable generation systems to provide a database for accurately measuring the status and progress towards the 100% goal.

Leelanau County encompasses eleven townships, three villages and several township based communities.  Each township and village has zoning and permitting authority. Northport Energy members will assist the students in reviewing planning and zoning regulations to determine which may need revisions.  This will facilitate the timely installation of residential and commercial solar and wind energy systems.  Three electric utilities serve the county – Cherryland Electric Cooperative, (a rural electrical cooperative); Consumers Energy, an investor-owned utility (IOU); Traverse City Light and Power, a public power municipal utility. The cooperative and municipal electric utilities have the local authority to set their electric rates and rate structures. Consumers Energy is subject to the State of Michigan Public Service Commission rate-setting processes. Northport Energy will work with the students to propose and promote “21st Century” electric rate structures to advance renewable energy systems, including off-peak energy storage rates, electric vehicle charging rates, fair solar net metering rates (including “value of solar” studies), feed-in-tariffs, in-bill financing, community solar, distributed generation and other rates to encourage economic and efficient utilization of the electrical energy. Displacement of natural gas, propane and heating oil by renewable electricity should be an important objective of the plan. Students interested in energy efficiency, residential and commercial HVAC, electrical and energy storage systems can assist in this aspect of the project.

To focus on “community acceptance” a county-wide presentation will be made by the U of M SEAS team.  A likely venue should be a Leelanau County League of Women’s Voters public forum. These events are widely advertised and usually are attended by fifty to one hundred citizens.

The duration of the project will be roughly 14 to 18 months, from project initiation to graduation.

Integrative Approach:

This project is integrative by its nature. Students with concentrations that interface in any way with energy can apply their skills. Student interests related to communication, planning, policy, design, regulations, permitting, project siting, installation, IT, financing, economics, community education, environmental assessment, utility operations, system integration, electric rates, engineering, resource assessment, energy analysis, and construction are applicable. 

SEAS Program Areas: 
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Environmental Informatics
Environmental Justice
Sustainable Systems
Landscape Architecture
Role for each program area: 

Environmental Policy and Planning: Interest/expertise in renewable energy policy and planning, especially as it relates to local community (county, village and township level) master plans, zoning and permitting. The student will have interest/expertise related to electric utility policy, regulations and rates as they pertain to the advancement of energy efficiency and renewable energy systems and integration of those systems.

Behavior, Education and Communication: Community acceptance is a critical part of the successful implementation of larger scale renewable energy systems. Information, education and communication activities will be a critical component of this 100% Renewable Energy for Leelanau County Plan.  The reasons most oppose such endeavors are ignorance, greed, jealously, and fear of the unknown. Understanding personal and community behaviors and motivations, and addressing these are critical to the success of the project. The preparation of a community presentation with an organization such as the Leelanau County League of Women’s Voters on the project will be a critical part of the program.  The ability to communicate, educate and address local government bodies, township planning commissions, township zoning bodies, county permitting departments, etc. is critical to the success of this endeavor.  There may be opportunities to develop programs with business groups such as the Leelanau Vineyards Trail group, the Chamber of Commerce, and service groups such as the Suttons Bay Rotary Club.

Environmental Informatics:  Northport Energy and its members with expertise in wind energy, solar energy, and electric utility operations have a vast amount of data related to these energy systems and applications. They have an extensive knowledge of potential project locations. Solar data, (real time and historic operations data) wind resource studies and related data, utility operations and consumption data are all available for students to analyze and process. Air quality measurement and weather station data is available in the county. For example, the Empire Village area air quality measurements indicate very negative air quality impacts from coal fired power plants (and other sources) from southern Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.  As mentioned above, the students will tabulate existing and planned renewable generation systems to provide a data base for accurately measuring the status and progress towards the 100% goal.

Sustainable Systems: The primary sustainable energy systems under this study include solar (electric, passive, active…), wind, and biofuels. Energy storage systems can be included, to manage and integrate the renewable energy generation sources.

Landscape Architecture: The placement, design and landscaping aspects of solar energy arrays can be an important part of community acceptance for such systems.  Siting of large wind turbines and their visual impacts are also important to study and consider because of potential community opposition.

Professional Career Development Benefits: 

We can guarantee that students will interface with senior professionals and local government officials that are part of Northport Energy. Northport Energy has forty members. They include wind and solar energy experts, energy economists, utility board members, local governmental officials, CPA’s, business executives, research engineers, lawyers, farmers, teachers, community political and environmental activists, writers, diplomats, policy specialists, project developers, university professors, scientists. The SEAS students will directly engage with electrical utility managers and engineering staff as part of system and rate analysis.  Many national and international conferences in the renewable energy field are available for professional paper presentation, including, but not limited to the American Solar Energy Society, the American Wind Energy Association, World Wind Energy Association, various electric utility association conferences, and environmental conferences. If needed, Northport Energy members can partner with students in the submission to conferences. 

Funding Sources: 

Once a project budget is set, Northport Energy, a 501c3 non-profit organization, will submit grant proposals to regional foundations, including the Leelanau Township Community Foundation that provided $10,000 for the first U of M team project. Funding requests may also be made to the two non-profit electric utilities serving Leelanau County.  Northport Energy has potential funds available, as well and members that can provide or subsidize overnight accommodations and food.

Identify expected products/deliverables: 


The SEAS project team will make two reports/presentations; 1) a comprehensive public presentation, probably before the Leelanau County League of Women’s Voters, introducing the team and outlining the nature of the project and its objectives with expected results, and 2) a final report and community presentation upon completion of the project.  Since Northport Energy is action focused, the installation and commissioning of at least 1 megawatt of solar electric should be accomplished during the duration of this project.  This will not be a SEAS deliverable, but an objective of Northport Energy in conjunction with the project, working with engaged SEAS students as part of the learning process.


 The mission of Northport Energy is “To transform the Leelanau Peninsula into a community 100 percent powered by efficient and sustainable energy sources”. The project outputs will be used by our organization to accelerate and advance our objectives by providing an organized approach with policy and utility reforms.  The project outputs will be available to all networks and audiences. It will be posted on the Northport Energy web site for public access and the final presentation will be widely advertised in the regional press, web news sites and radio. 

Additional Faculty Advisor(s) and Department(s): 
Geoffrey Lewis
Contact full name: 
Peter Wolcott
Job title: 
Board Member and Treasurer
State or Country: 
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Greg Keoleian
Contact Phone: 
Contact e-mail: 
Contact information: 
Our Organization has been an SNRE master's project client in a previous year
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Brandon Smith 
  • Abhijeet Walchale 
  • Leona Liu 
Project Status: 
In Progress