Detroit's solar future, more lead, Indigenous People's Day, Planet Detroit event emphasizes need for local voice

October 18, 2019 | CO2 2019/2018 408.64 / 405.87 ppm <<

The Pablo Davis Elder Living Center. Photo courtesy of Tim Skrotzki.

Solar power makes gains in Detroit despite end of net-metering

A story in Curbed Detroit this week by Planet Detroit’s own Nina Ignaczak shows how solar power is still coming online in Detroit despite Michigan’s recent switch away from net-metering to a credit that is supposed to factor in the costs of grid maintenance. The main reason? The costs of solar panels are coming down.

Mark Hagerty from Michigan Solar Solutions says:

“The cost of electricity is going to keep going up; solar panels are not… The fossil fuel industry is in a downward spiral. The more of their products that are used, the more the cost will go up. The more solar panels are used, the less they will cost because of economies of scale.”

The Pablo Davis Elder Living Center in Southwest Detroit recently added solar panels as part of a larger renovation project. Ignaczak acknowledges that making the cost-benefit of solar work is more difficult for single-family homes—of which there are many in Detroit—and many solar projects seem to be going to higher-end clients. But efforts like the Distributed Power LLC’s plan to aggregate installations for neighborhoods to lower cost or the initiative by Michigan lawmakers to pass a law allowing community solar can change this dynamic.

Elsewhere in the Great Lakes State, the Upper Penninsula is engaged in a debate over what role solar will play in its energy production. Solar would seem to offer a much needed alternative for a remote area with high energy prices, but critics of the UP’s utility UPPCO say that it is trying to retain control of solar installations at the expense of home-scale or distributed generation (sound familiar?).

This comes against the backdrop of comments this week by former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox—who among other things called current AG Dana Nessel “full of shit” over her criticisms of his stance on utilities—where he explained that Michigan is “a peninsula and energy always costs more”. Which might be one reason we should generate more of our own power, perhaps from the sun?

Another development worth noting is the state’s new MI Power Grid initiative, designed to provide utility users with information to help them take advantage of renewable energy programs and technology. The web site will include information on the cost of green pricing programs and distributed generation.

Lead issues continue to make news

After last week’s breakdown on lead problems in Detroit and Michigan, we were hoping to give this issue rest, but more—mostly bad—news continued to roll out this week. Here’s a rundown.

Petition for air quality and community benefits in the FCA deal

A petition is circulating to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) that seeks to guarantee a number of community benefits and projects as part of the FCA expansion on Detroit’s East Side.

Among other things, the petition seeks:

  • At least $12.5 into the Public Health Fund for education and air filters in buildings.

  • Air quality filtration systems and monitoring stations at schools, head starts, and senior buildings.

  • Green space and vegetative buffers around the plant, along with traffic mitigation measures.

  • Truck routing in coordination with the community and public health experts.

  • Regular community meetings with local and environmental organizations.

Indigenous People’s Day draws attention to Native and non-native activism

On October 14th, Indigenous People’s Day, a number of Native and non-native activists marched to protest Enbridge’s Line 3 in northern Minnesota. This is part of the same network that includes the controversial Line 5, which runs through the Straits of Mackinac.

According to an article in In These Times, protesters believe the pipeline network violates Ojibwe treaty rights that among other things entitles Natives to “make a modest living from the land” something they say is imperiled by the threats to water, soil, and wildlife posed by the pipelines in addition to concerns about climate change.

In Wisconsin, Enbridge offered an at least $24 million settlement to the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa after their lawsuit to shut down Line 5, which runs through the tribe’s reservation. The tribe does not appear to be considering the offer, although Enbridge is making overtures to individual tribal members who own parcels. Bad River tribal elder Joe Rose Sr. said the Bad River and the surrounding watershed are "priceless."

"I’m looking seven generations ahead. I’m looking out for my grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even those yet unborn," said Rose. "What kind of a world are they going to live in if we allow Enbridge and these mining companies and all of these others that come in to poison our water and our air?"

Globally, indigenous people have helped foment movements to stop threats to the ecosystems they depend on. This was the case over the summer as fires tore through the Amazon, seemingly with the tacit acceptance of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who believes protecting rainforest is hurting Brazil’s economy. Protests in the capital of Brasilia attracted hundreds of tribes to fight encroachments on indigenous lands that are also a significant buffer against the worst effects of the climate crisis.

Sold-out Planet Detroit conversation emphasizes the need for more community voice in environmental reporting

A panel of nine journalists and environmental activists spoke to a sold-out audience at The Room Project last night, considering the question: “What are Detroit’s key environmental stories (and how should they be told)?”

Here are just some of the take-aways:

  • All environmental coverage must start with a human element reflective of the community being covered. Tell peoples’ stories. If the journalist herself is not from that community, she must take care to review the facts of the story with people from that community to make sure they got it right.

  • Utilities serving the public (namely DTE Energy and the Great Lakes Water Authority / Detroit Water and Sewerage Department) are not particularly forthcoming with their data, especially pertaining to water and electric shutoffs. One solution: The state regulatory agency LARA could request those records so that they are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

  • In the years that Detroit water has been shut off, there has been a rise in infant mortality, which is already among the worst in the nation, and it's slowly increasing. But nobody's making that connection.

  • The media tends to treat the environment like it's a sub-topic. But it intersects multiple issues—education, health care, housing, jobs, etc.

  • Focusing on the long-term health impacts of environmental pollution over a long period of time is difficult but really important.

  • Trust in media is broken, in part because communities don’t see themselves reflected in coverage which often comes from the perspective of the wealthy and powerful.

  • One role for the media is to explain complicated environmental topics to people who are not getting the information they need from institutions. But first, journalists must earn the trust of the communities they serve.

  • The local impact of climate change is an underappreciated story. Folks in the Great Lakes region tend to think that we're immune or we'll benefit from it when climateb refugees come to fill up our vacant spaces. In fact, we're already dealing with increased precipitation and hot days. How does this connect to infrastructure and inequality problems that were there, to begin with? Being able to connect the dots would be a great service to the community.

  • Environmental stories should be thought of as democracy stories because they are tightly integrated with who has decision making power over what happens in particular places.

  • Solutions journalism is important but complicated. People need examples of hope, but we have to be very careful not to tout the wrong or inappropriate solutions.

    What do you think are Detroit’s essential environmental stories? Reply to this email to let us know.

Panelists (left to right): Eleanore Catolico (WDET/freelance reporter), Justin Onwenu (Sierra Club), Nick Leonard (Great Lakes Environmental Law Center), Martina Guzman (Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights Race and Justice Journalism Fellow at Wayne State University), Serena Maria Daniels (Tostada Magazine, Michelle Martinez (Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition), Anna Clark (Journalist & Author, The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy), Katlyn Alo (Outlier Media), Danielle Todd (Make Food Not Waste)

Solutions & Bright Spots

Some brighter spots we found in the news this week:


The voter suppression / climate change nexus

Giant energy companies burning off methane

3rd Annual Sustainable Detroit Forum Wednesday, October 23rd, 9:00am- 5:00pm EST  TCF Center 1 Washington Blvd Detroit, MI 48226  

We'll start the day with our morning keynote from Dr. Brandy Brown, followed by educational breakout sessions. During lunch we'll hear from a panel focused on non-motorized mobility and it will be followed by additional educations sessions and a networking happy hour. Click here to check out the full list of presenters.   

Register today>>>

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CONNECT: Engage with Detroit’s environment

Have an opportunity you’d like to see featured here? Let us know at

October 19 | Sarah Garrett Park Planting | Hamtramck >>>

October 19 | Canada's Chemical Valley Toxic Tour 2019 | Sarnia >>>

October 20 | Clinton River Trail Ride | Rochester  >>>

October 22 + 24 | Final SW Detroit Truck Study Community Meetings | Detroit >>>

October 24-26 | Net Impact Conference | Detroit >>>

October 25-27 | Great Lakes Bioneers | Detroit >>>

October 28 | Release Party - Geez 54: Climate Justice | Detroit >>>

October 29 | Your Water, Your Voice: Drinking Water Summit | Grand Rapids >>>

October 30 | Canning at home | Berkley >>>

November 2 | Fall Birding Hike on the Clinton River Trail | Rochester Hills >>>

November 6 | Seventh Annual Innovation in Conservation Awards Gala | Detroit >>>

November 8 | Michigan Interfaith Power & Light Conference | Detroit >>>

November 15-17 Grounding: Discovering our sacred gifts in a climate emergency | Guelph, ON >>>

November 20 | Michigan Sustainability Conference | Lansing >>>

February 29, 2020 | Quiet Adventures Symposium | Lansing >>>

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