New online tool helps Michigan communities plan for renewable energy

ANN ARBOR-University of Michigan researchers have created a searchable, sortable public database of Michigan zoning ordinances related to siting renewable energy, such as windmill farms and solar panel fields.

The project is supported by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, and the database is hosted on EGLE’s website.

Currently, more than half of Michigan’s 1,800-plus municipalities have considered renewable energy in their zoning ordinances. As utility-scale renewable energy expands, remaining communities will have a rich resource to help guide their new ordinances.

“As more and more people are looking to plan for renewable energy development in their communities, this database is designed to inform and improve their decision-making,” said Sarah Mills, project lead and senior project manager at U-M’s Graham Sustainability Institute.

“Planners and elected officials can see what other communities are doing, and they can compare more-to-less restrictive ordinances. We included census data so that municipalities can focus on the ordinances that were developed by communities similar to their own.”

The database, which was launched by the state Feb. 26, is also expected to be used by developers and by researchers looking to identify emerging trends in municipal zoning. At-a-glance maps updated in real time help users quickly determine which municipalities are primed for renewable energy development with existing ordinances.

“We’ve seen a large increase in proposals for wind and solar farms in Michigan, and that demand will only grow in the coming years as utilities move away from fossil fuels,” said Liesl Clark, Michigan EGLE director. “This comprehensive database is a wonderful tool to help communities around the state achieve those goals.”

The renewable energy zoning database is a key component of the Energy Future Initiative, a partnership between the Graham Sustainability Institute and Michigan EGLE.

“Communities have wanted to see real world examples of how other Michigan communities are handling renewable zoning, but in the past it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” Mills said. “We are pleased to partner with EGLE to bring this unique tool to the communities that need it most.”

Mills is also a lecturer at U-M’s Ford School of Public Policy and the Program in the Environment.

The U-M Graham Sustainability Institute transforms knowledge into real-world impact by catalyzing collaborations between students, researchers, practitioners and stakeholders. These cross-disciplinary initiatives lead to positive outcomes that safeguard the planet’s life support systems and enhance well-being for present and future generations.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy protects Michigan’s environment and public health by managing air, water, land and energy resources. EGLE houses the state Office of Climate and Energy, which coordinates the state’s response to climate change by supporting state and local governments in mitigation and resiliency efforts.

The Office of Climate and Energy also promotes renewable energy and energy efficiency, advocates for the continued transition to a clean energy economy, and provides guidance in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. EGLE’s Energy Services Unit promotes healthy communities, economic growth and environmental sustainability through renewable energy and energy waste reduction initiatives.

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