From the Daily: Community first

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published January 10, 2013

It’s widely acknowledged that renewable energy has tangible environmental and economic benefits. Always progressive, Ann Arbor is making steps toward a clean-energy future with the recent installation of solar panels on University of Michigan property on Plymouth Road and the planned installation of two wind turbines in partnership with Ann Arbor Public Schools. However, community members feel as though they were not consulted and are understandably upset. While it’s indisputable that renewable energy is beneficial in the long-term for the Ann Arbor community, these projects don't send the right message to the people who will be directly affected by their presence.

At a Jan. 7 City Council meeting, a nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Ann Arbor community was approved for the construction of two wind turbines. The turbines will be constructed on Ann Arbor Public School property. According to Annarbor.com Brian Steglitz, a senior utilities engineer for the city, says, “… this is going to be an educational tool for the school system, their kids.” He goes on to say it will provide Ann Arbor Public Schools a hands-on tool to teach students about wind energy.

While the goal of giving students tangible means to learn about renewable energy is admirable, these wind turbines are not viable options for renewable energy. Wind farms consist of many wind turbines, two will not provide sufficient energy to power a school. Council Member Sabra Briere (D-1) also noted that Ann Arbor wind speeds are slightly lower that the 13 mph winds turbines traditionally require. This sends the message that the city of Ann Arbor is willing to spend on forms of energy that aren’t suited to the city.

Hundreds of solar panels have been installed recently on the North Campus Research Complex on Plymouth Road, with DTE Energy paying the University for using the land. Ann Arbor City Council member Jane Lumm said in a memo to the Michigan director of community relations that there was a lack of notice or community engagement prior to the solar panels. The University should continue to be on the forefront of new green technology, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of community members.

Though these environmentally conscious projects may be well-intentioned, the lack of community engagement and forethought in both the turbine and solar array construction is problematic. When considering changes to the ways communities are powered, project leaders and officials must seek the interest and acceptance of the public. Surveys, forums and town hall meetings should be utilized to gauge public interest before such operations are implemented.