[email protected]: The Marquette Solar Project

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Ellen Lindblom

The Northern Climate Network to host first seminar of the year on local solar potential

Imagine a beautiful U.P. summer day. The sun is shining, the lake is glistening. As your flight lands at Sawyer International Airport for your weekend trip to Marquette, someone remarks, “Look at all those solar panels.”

Bathed in sunlight, 200,000 panels below you are doing what they do best, converting the sun’s rays into energy. The Marquette County Solar Project could be the future of energy in the U.P. by lowering costs and protecting our environment.

The Northern Climate Network (NCN) will sponsor a series of seminars throughout the semester titled [email protected] The first installment will take place this Friday, Sept. 7 at noon, and will be held on the first Friday of each month through December in Jamrich 1318. Students, faculty and community members are encouraged to bring your lunch and come ready to learn.

Rich Vander Veen, president of Mackinaw Power, will present on the Marquette County Solar Project and a discussion on “Protecting our Great Lakes for future generations.” He has been developing wind energy projects all over Michigan, and is passionate about renewable energy sources. Mackinaw Power and Tradewind Energy, based out of Kansas, have teamed up to work on the Marquette County Solar Project.

“How do we foster prosperity, people and planet? How do we foster financial, social and environmental values for our community,” Vander Veen said. “And how do we build schools, churches, business, and universities around these values?”

Vander Veen believes that one of the best ways we can do that is through renewable energy and being more conscious of how our decisions impact our community and the environment.

Mackinaw Power and Tradewind energies conducted a study over the last 18 months on all 15 counties in the U.P. The best spot for a large scale solar project is just south of Sawyer International Airport in Forsyth Township, he said.

The project would create enough energy to power 7,500 homes. Solar does not produce harmful emissions, it lowers our dependency on fossil fuels and would stabilize and reduce the cost of power across the U.P. Vander Veen said. The benefits also include a boost to the economy by creating local jobs.

“No one knows what the price of fossil fuels or natural gas will be in the next five, 10, or 30 years. We know exactly how much the price of solar will be, and it’s actually going down,” Vander Veen said.

Solar energy has become cheaper and more productive in the past few years, and is now more affordable than ever, Vander Veen said. The same panel is now two to three times as powerful as they were five years ago and are a fifth of the cost. Vander Veen said one megawatt is created by 4,000 panels. In 2009, it costed companies $7,500 per megawatt to install. In 2018, it only cost $1,500 per megawatt.

The project currently has unanimous support from the township and the county, Vander Veen said. The lease agreement is in place and the project can begin once local and regional power companies evaluate energy needs.

The [email protected] seminars are sponsored by the Northern Climate Network, a student and community organization.
The Marquette County Climate Adaptation Task Force is a partnership with NMU, Superior Watershed Partnership and Marquette County.

Olivia Walcott, senior environmental science major is one of the coordinators for the NCN student organization for the past three years and president of the new environmental educator organization EcoReps. Walcott said she enjoys the diverse mix of community members, staff and students who attend.

“It’s been great to see these converging groups, which under different circumstance, wouldn’t be in the same room together,” Walcott said.

With the denial of climate change permeating the public discourse, Walcott said she is unconcerned with those who choose to ignore the science.

“Solar power works. And in a lot of cases it’s going to be really affordable. There are so many things you can’t deny about solar power. Our environment hasn’t always been a politicized issue. In the 70s we passed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act easily and these were bipartisan issues,” Walcott said. “Making the environment and climate change ascribe to a certain political party is a new idea.”

In 2012, Jessica Thompson joined the communications department at NMU. The expertise she gained from her Ph.D. in environmental communication was essential when creating the NCN. Thompson is also the faculty advisor for the NCN student organization.

“People kept introducing me to so-and-so who is doing this on climate change, and this person is doing this and I said, ‘Wow, why don’t we all get together and share the work that is going on?’ And that’s how it started,” Thompson said.

[email protected] has been a program presented by the NCN and NMU students and professors for three years, now heading into their fourth.

“The big goal is public education and awareness on the community level. I really believe that climate change action is going to happen in neighborhoods. Policy is not going to come from the top down. As citizens we can mobilize locally,” Thompson said.

Thompson believes in creating a “climate resilient community” in Marquette. By educating and uniting the community and university, this network can navigate the impacts of climate change and be prepared to respond, she said.
“Whether you’re a student who is here for four years or a community member who has been here for 40 or 50, when you bring these communities together, magic happens,” Thompson said.

The NCN is also gearing up for the Climate March this Saturday. Following the seminar on Friday, the group will provide sign making materials free of charge for those who want to participate in the march.

“You don’t have to know anything about climate change to come. It’s all introductory level information. You don’t have to have a degree in science. Anyone is welcome,” said Thompson.

More information on Mackinaw Power and Tradewind Energy can be found at www.mackinawpower.com and tradewindenergy.com. To get
involved with NCN or EcoReps, contact the groups on their
Facebook page.