Approximately half of the purchased electricity for the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus will soon come from Michigan-sourced renewable resources, largely due to the launch of three new wind-energy parks.
The university committed to purchase approximately 200 million kilowatt hours per year of electricity produced by the new wind parks in a 2019 power-purchase agreement with DTE Energy. This step, now coming to fruition, will reduce U-M greenhouse gas emissions by more than 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually — equivalent to the annual emissions generated by 12,000 homes.
“I am very pleased that, as a result of these wind farms, the Ann Arbor campus will transition its purchased power away from carbon-intensive sources and toward local, renewable clean power,” President Mark Schlissel said. “This progress aligns with many of the recommendations recently put forward by the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, and I look forward to taking additional steps to reduce the university’s greenhouse gas emissions in an innovative, scalable and financially responsible way.”
The new wind parks began operating in April. Two facilities in mid-Michigan’s Isabella County contain 136 turbines with a capacity of 383 megawatts, making them the state’s largest wind parks. The third complex, Fairbanks Wind, is located in the Upper Peninsula’s Delta County and includes 21 turbines with a capacity of 72 megawatts.
“We are very excited the wind parks are up and running,” said Andrew Berki, director of the Office of Campus Sustainability. “Supporting renewable energy produced right here in Michigan is an excellent way to reduce the university’s emissions while boosting sustainable infrastructure across our region.”
U-M is one of 11 large MIGreenPower customers that will be served by the wind parks. The university signed up alongside Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., the Detroit Zoo, Bedrock Detroit and others seeking to buy Michigan-based renewable energy to reduce their emissions. MIGreenPower is a voluntary renewable energy program, administered by DTE Energy, designed to accelerate the development of wind and solar energy.
This ongoing renewable-energy purchase will help U-M meet its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the Ann Arbor campus by 25 percent by 2025. The university is expected to meet this goal, set in 2011, later this year.
In addition to purchasing electricity from the wind parks, U-M is increasing the capacity to generate energy on campus at the highly efficient Central Power Plant, and is continuing to invest in energy efficiency. These strategies were recommended by the President’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Committee in 2015.
In March, the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality delivered its final report, including 50 recommendations to help the university achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the Flint, Dearborn and Ann Arbor campuses, including Michigan Medicine. Recommendations pertain to direct U-M emissions, purchased electricity, and indirect emissions sources, like commuting and food procurement.
The commission designed recommendations to be scalable, transferable, financially responsible and environmentally just. Schlissel praised the PCCN report and said he will respond with initial action steps later this month.
It’s hard to overstate how important it is to rapidly decarbonize our energy, so efforts to this end are laudable. However, it’s important to note that purchasing through DTE is not only a very expensive option, but it also reinforces the power of a utility that is one of the dirtiest in the country (while also least reliable) and which has strangled the development of distributed renewables across the state through “manipulating regulatory regimes via policy misinterpretation” (words from a published academic study, see
U-M should instead be using its market weight in ways that support distributed generation, such that our investments are multiplied and make other communities more resilient.
For more on this, see this recent op-ed from Michigan students:
as well as this article that goes into much more depth:
Also it’s important to note that U-M has historically been a climate laggard and is only taking these catch-up actions after sustained and intense public pressure. It’s important the community keep pushing and to hold them accountable.
Other recommendations of the 2015 President’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Committee: geothermal heating/cooling on North Campus, on-campus solar photovoltaic installations, on-campus wind turbine installation for community engagement, more stringent building requirements such as ASHRAE 90.1-2013, expanded partnerships with the City, development and implementation of an internal carbon tax, development of a plan to address Scope 3 emissions, etc. Almost none of these have been implemented.
The 2015 Committee also noted that doubling down on fossil fuels by expanding the campus gas plant “ties us to fossil fuels for at least two decades and likely more, […] is unlikely to be viewed as the action of a climate leader, [and] it is important in the view of the committee to establish concrete plans for alternate fuels for this facility in the longer term, and/or ways to offset its emissions.” No such concrete plans were ever made.
We have a lot of work to do, but it requires being honest about our progress and where we need to do better, and actually investing in solutions that empower people not just create good branding. Many of these issues can be incorporated by incorporating an Environmental Justice-centered approach to the decision-making prcoess.
While the U-M admin has very recently begun to adopt such language, it’s clear they haven’t actually done the work to understand what that means. U-M is actually a global academic leader in this regard — they could start by tapping some of that expertise and empowering those folks throughout the decision-making process. (No EJ experts were on the either the 2015 Committee or 2020 Commission.)