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Michigan’s Capital City Lays the Groundwork for a Solar Future

| By Zack Loehle, Interstate Renewable Energy Council

Lansing, Michigan isn’t just the capital of the Great Lakes State—the city is also securing its future as a solar leader with a recent SolSmart Silver designation. As part of this solar achievement, the city has enacted a number of exciting planning initiatives, focused on rooftop solar PV, community outreach, and equity efforts to ensure representation of all members of the city in various government committees.

Governing many of Lansing’s sustainability efforts is the Sustainability Action Plan (SAP), which sets targets for the city’s energy future. In fact, as the city was developing the SAP, staff relied on the SolSmart program to help set in place the local changes that would make those sustainability goals possible. “As we were developing our plan and goals, we felt like SolSmart would be a good catalyst for preparing the city for solar,” said Lori Welch, the city sustainability manager. With demand for solar expected to pick up significantly in the coming years, the national solar best practices recommended by the SolSmart program have helped the city prepare for that change. “I’m really glad that we were able to get that SolSmart designation when we did,” Welch added.

Next, the city is undertaking projects in education, outreach, and ensuring equity. Making commercial and industrial building owners aware of the many solar rebates currently available to them is a key priority. “If we can pair the education and outreach, and share the resources so that it’s really easy for people to tap into these incentives, then I think we’ll really see an increase in solar,” Welch said. The city is also working to create more inclusive and equitable strategies y by bringing more people, particularly from disadvantaged communities, into various boards and commissions such as the Sustainability Commission. By better reflecting the residents of Lansing, these committees will give the community a direct voice in decision-making. 

On government-owned buildings, Lansing is looking at installing solar microgrids and rooftop PV to bolster sustainability efforts and support climate resilience. Potential projects include solar-plus-storage at a community center and rooftop solar at several other municipal sites. The city is also exploring a partnership with the Lansing School District (a separate governmental entity), “so there may be a large number of installations on both municipal and school-owned sites in the city soon,” said Welch. Staff are currently exploring the best ways to fund such projects.

As they worked toward SolSmart Silver, one important change was making the city’s solar processes more front-facing and open to the community, said Jocee Schwass, a City of Lansing sustainability intern. That included major updates to the city’s sustainability webpage and the creation of a solar landing page

Another change spurred by the SolSmart program was greater collaboration between departments within the city. “SolSmart has been the catalyst for a number of conversations with people who are more knowledgeable about solar than they would have been otherwise…There’s a greater understanding of solar, and the training and information that city staff had to view to get the designation I think was very helpful,” said Welch. As Lansing plans a climate-friendly future, SolSmart has helped pave the way. 

Any city, county, or regional organization across the U.S. can achieve SolSmart designation. To get started, contact us here, and begin your own path toward a cleaner energy future.