What’s Up with the Neighborhood Solar Initiative?

January 15, 2024

What’s Up with the Neighborhood

Solar Initiative?

In June 2023 Mayor Mike Duggan announced the Neighborhood Solar Initiative, a result of the Inflation Reduction Act that offers substantial incentives of 30% or more for renewable energy programs. This ambitious project aims to convert 250 acres of Detroit vacant land in residential areas into solar energy farms, hosting 33 megawatts of solar panels and providing clean energy to 127 city owned buildings.

Detroit’s Office of Sustainability and Department of Neighborhoods joined forces with local nonprofits and environmental groups like Green Door Initiative, EcoWorks, D2 Solar, and Walker-Miller Energy to conduct a four-month community engagement process where ten proposals were submitted as potential hosting sites for the solar arrays. By November 15th, the list was narrowed to nine (9) finalist neighborhoods, with (6) six expected to be selected in March 2024. Those neighborhoods are: Gratiot/Findlay, Greenfield Park/I-75-McNichols, Grixdale, Houston Whittier/Hayes (Outer Drive Hayes), I-96/Plymouth (O’Shea), Mount Olivet, State Fair, Trinity Pickford and Van Dyke/Lynch.

Homeowners residing within the solar installation areas will receive no less than $90,000 to relocate, while renters can expect 18 months of funding to cover rent in a new home and their relocation expenses. Hosting neighborhoods will be rewarded with $25,000 per acre and residents in the developer-defined impact area can look forward to energy efficiency benefits ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 each for new windows, roof repairs, smart thermostats, and backup batteries for power outages. Neighborhoods must submit signatures from homeowners agreeing to sell their homes, renters who are willing to relocate, and homeowners in the benefit area by January 31, 2024, as proof of community support.

While the move towards sustainable infrastructure and renewable energy is a great step for the city, there are major concern related to this project that include:  potential displacement for residents, greenwashing of blighted areas, underutilized federal funding for green infrastructure projects, decreased property values along with increased negative environmental impacts related to substantial tree removal creating an increase in urban heat islands. The exclusion of the local farm community from targeted incentives and the vulnerability of low-income residents who attempt to exercise their rights in what may historically be seen as another urban removal process.  Notably, the project’s electricity will serve city-owned buildings designated for public use not local Detroit residents who are burdened by high utility rates with frequent and prolonged outages.