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The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a quiet, rural area where you can escape the busyness of urban cities. Population density is low in the Upper Peninsula (UP), making energy transmission costs high and causing electricity rates to be among the highest in the United States. In Baraga, 33.2% of residents live below the poverty line, and a reduction in electricity rates would make a significant difference to them. 

Enter the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region (WUPPDR), a local government organization that provides general planning and support for six western counties in the UP. Community leaders in Baraga and L’Anse areas of the UP view community solar as a solution to the cost and reliability issues surrounding electricity in the Keweenaw Bay region by bringing generation facilities closer to home. Community solar may help residents mitigate high prices and help neighboring communities toward self-sufficiency with their energy needs. To assist in determining the feasibility of community solar in Baraga, MI, a University of Michigan (U-M) Dow Sustainability Fellows team conducted a cost-benefit analysis in 2018. Based on this analysis, the team developed several interactive dashboards to aid the community. This cost-benefit analysis was a requirement of grant funding through WPPI Energy, a not-for-profit, regional power company serving 51 locally-owned electric utilities.  

College tuition rates are increasing every year, forcing many students to take out student loans. Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) is something every college student fills out, but not many truly understand how the process of student loan borrowing works. Michigan student loan default rates are higher than the national average, and women, especially women of color, are disproportionately affected by student debt. With a $5,000 seed grant from the Dow Distinguished Awards competition, a University of Michigan (U-M) student team is co-designing a solution with students to meet their loan literacy needs. 

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In 2016, Traverse City, Michigan committed to sourcing 100% of the energy used for city operations from renewable sources by 2020. In 2018, the municipal utility Traverse City Light & Power made a similar commitment to 100% renewable sources by 2040. These declarations created opportunities for local energy project development in the region, paving the way for renewables to benefit environmental, social, and economic issues within the community. Renewable energy projects and infrastructure are not new, but communities across the United States are still struggling to find the best models to harness this opportunity, particularly for underserved geographies and communities. 

A team of Dow Fellows worked with leaders and stakeholders in Traverse City throughout 2018 and produced the Beyond Renewable document to highlight the benefits of renewable energy and methods of working effectively with stakeholders, including local government, developers, utility companies and members of the community.

Beyond Renewable, is related to the Dow Masters Fellows team project Making the Case for Renewable Energy in Traverse City. Traverse City recently committed to sourcing 100% of the energy used for city operations from renewable sources by 2020. To help reach this goal, the Groundwork Center is participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar in Your Community Challenge to create a model for harnessing the revenue from large, local, utility-scale solar projects. Through this project, the Traverse City Rural Independence through Solar Energy project (or TC-RISE), the Groundwork Center and its partners hope to create a series of solar and efficiency success stories that taken together will help rural and urban communities improve their homes, create jobs, and save residents money. 

Also, see:

2018 Project Report: Making the Case for Renewable Energy in Traverse City

Dow Fellows Program - Masters/Professional Fellows

Our Dow Sustainability Fellowship Program team (the Dow team) partnered with the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) to investigate drinking water quality and affordability issues at the community level to better inform statewide efforts to empower citizens and address water access concerns. The locality of focus, Benton Harbor, Michigan, shares similarities to Flint, Michigan – a city thrust into the spotlight when lead contamination was discovered in its drinking water. Benton Harbor, like Flint, has experienced an economic depression, a strained city governance, and aging infrastructure.

Keywords: water, infrastructure, Michigan Environmental Council, City Planning

A Dow Sustainability Fellows team presented to the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) the financial, social, and environmental merits of offering subsidized ride-hail services to residents in areas that cannot be efficiently covered by buses. The team proposed a subsidized ride-hail service, FlexBus. While the research, design, and analysis of this report were conducted specifically for the AAATA, the team expects the information and insight will be broadly applicable to any transit agency considering on-demand ride-hailing.

Keywords: Ride sharing, hailing, transportation, subsidized

The concept of energy democracy allows people and communities to have control over their energy supply, with options such as choosing whether it comes from fossil fuels or renewables, and infrastructure considerations. Energy democracy focuses on poor and working class people of color, often most impacted by energy purchase decisions. The city of HIghland Park, MI has a majority of African-American and black population, with nearly half of residents living below the poverty line. Soulardarity and the Dow Fellows team collaborated on a community survey, that showed, among other findings, that approximately 40% of the population reported difficulty in paying their energy bills, with multiple people reporting illegal shut-offs.  The results suggest a high and possibly unjust energy burden on the population.

Keywords: Energy democracy, Community Solar Calculator, Community Solar Power, Highland Park

Like many post-industrial cities, Detroit has an outdated and overburdened combined sewer system. In a combined sewer system, heavy rains overwhelm the city’s water treatment system, resulting in increased flooding and discharges of both sewage and stormwater into local rivers. In order to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSO), stormwater must enter the sewer system at a slower and steadier pace without high peaks caused by heavy rain events. In addition, Detroit has vast amounts of impervious surface, much of which is abandoned or underused, further contributing to stormwater runoff concerns.

This project, in collaboration with Michigan Community Resources (MCR) and Eastside Community Network (ECN), explores whether a collective, place-based approach to green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) installations can result in joint stormwater credits toward fees in residential neighborhoods.


Keywords: Urban infrastructure, combined sewer system, flooding, sewage, stormwater, green infrastructure

Over the course of 2017, a team of University of Michigan (U-M) Dow Sustainability Fellows partnered with the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Wisconsin to assess NELD impacts experienced by their community. Students collaborated with the tribe to document and illuminate the potential adverse health, cultural, and psychological impacts stemming from biodiversity losses and destruction or alteration of landscapes. Their research highlights the interconnected relationship between the environment and tribal members’ identity, spirituality, and culture. Moreover, it demonstrates how dedicated the community is to being environmental stewards.

Keywords:  Non-economic losses and damages (NELD), Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, emotional, health, psychological impacts stemming, climate and environmental change, Wisconsin

Dow Distinguished Awards 2018 Factsheet

Dow Distinguished Award for Interdisciplinary Sustainability
Open to any U-M Ann Arbor undergraduate or graduate student interested in pursuing innovative solutions to affordable housing, access to healthy food, renewable energy, and more. 

Dow Masters 2018 Factsheet

Supports graduate scholars pursuing a Master's or Professional degree who are committed to finding sustainable solutions and prepares them to be global sustainability leaders.