Ann Arbor’s U-M Creates Online Tool to Help Communities Plan for Renewable Energy Projects

Researchers from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor have created a searchable, sortable public database of Michigan zoning ordinances related to siting renewable energy such as windmill farms and solar panel fields.
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U-M researchers have created a database of Michigan zoning ordinances related to renewable energy. // Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan

Researchers from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor have created a searchable, sortable public database of Michigan zoning ordinances related to siting renewable energy such as windmill farms and solar panel fields.

The project, launched last week, is supported by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and is hosted on its website.

Currently, more than half of Michigan’s 1,800-plus municipalities have considered renewable energy in their zoning ordinances. As utility-scale renewable energy expands, the database will provide remaining communities a resource to help design and guide their ordinances.

“As more and more people are looking to plan for renewable energy development in their communities, this database is designed to inform and improve their decision-making,” says Sarah Mills, senior project manager at U-M’s Graham Sustainability Institute. “Planners and elected officials can see what other communities are doing, and they can compare more-to-less restrictive ordinances. We included census data so that municipalities can focus on the ordinances that were developed by communities similar to their own.”

The database is also expected to be used by developers and researchers looking to identify emerging trends in municipal zoning. The maps update in real time and help users determine which municipalities are ready for renewable energy development with existing ordinances.

“We’ve seen a large increase in proposals for wind and solar farms in Michigan, and that demand will only grow in the coming years as utilities move away from fossil fuels,” says Liesl Clark, director of Michigan EGLE. “This comprehensive database is a wonderful tool to help communities around the state achieve those goals.”

The database is a component of the Energy Future Initiative, a partnership between the Graham Sustainability Institute and Michigan EGLE.

“Communities have wanted to see real world examples of how other Michigan communities are handling renewable zoning, but in the past, it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” Mills says.

Mills says the U-M Graham Sustainability Institute brings together students, researchers, practitioners, and stakeholders in an effort to safeguard the planet’s resources and enhance its well-being.

Michigan EGLE works to protect Michigan’s environment and public health by managing air, water, land, and energy resources. It houses the state’s Office of Climate and Energy, which coordinates the state’s response to climate change by supporting state and local governments in mitigation and resiliency efforts. It also promotes renewable energy and energy efficiency, advocates for the continued transition to a clean energy economy, and provides guidance in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The database is available here.

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