On-site visits to a Michigan solar field and wind park give students new insight on renewable energy in Michigan

Nearly 30 students from the Ford School and SEAS recently got a view of Michigan that will become increasingly familiar, visiting a 239 MW solar energy installation in Shiawassee County and a 150 MW wind park in Middleton. As the state moves toward its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, more sites like these will dot the landscape—especially in rural areas. 

The unique field trip was conceived by Dr. Sarah Mills, senior project manager at the Graham Sustainability Institute, U-M lecturer, and renewable energy expert.

"I've been teaching the course Renewable Energy Policy at the State and Local Level, which focuses on the politics and policy interventions, for several years,” said Mills. “So many of my students have a passion for renewable energy and a real hunger to understand wind and solar from the technical and physical sides. What better way to introduce them than by visiting the actual developments that power our state?”

Over the full-day excursion, on-the-ground staff from solar developer Ranger Power and public utility Consumers Energy explained how the sites are built and maintained. 

“It was enlightening for the students to hear directly from the folks who make these projects go,” said Mills. ”It’s also helpful for them to see and hear for themselves how these projects impact communities, to better ground discussions about the policies that shape their deployment.”  

Mills hopes to expand renewable energy tour offerings, ideally including faculty.

“So many folks on campus are working on the science behind technologies to decarbonize our economy, but few have a chance to actually see those technologies working at scale.  It’s my hope that by bringing more researchers to these sites, they can continue to find solutions that work not just on paper, but also work for the communities that will host them.”

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