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Advancing Solar: Great Lakes Bay Region

In partnership with the Great Lakes Bay Economic Development Partnership (a collaborative of Saginaw Future, Bay Future, and Midland Tomorrow), Clean Energy Coalition led a project to help decrease the cost of solar electric installations in the Saginaw, Midland, and Bay City region.

The project focused on evaluating and addressing current inefficiencies and obstacles in permitting procedures, solar and zoning ordinances, and application processes. Working with four municipalities in the region – the City of Saginaw, the City of Midland, Thomas Township, and Williams Township – Clean Energy Coalition’s Communities Division developed recommendations to minimize these barriers and increase solar adoption in commercial and residential sectors.

This project consisted of four phases:

  • Research: The team summarized national best practices, case studies, and research reports while also conducting interviews with local stakeholders to assess current permitting and zoning policies and practices.
  • Convene: A stakeholder meeting, including local and state government staff, elected officials, and representatives from utility companies and the solar industry, enabled the team to present research and begin to craft solutions for moving forward.
  • Synthesize: Following the first two phases, the project team compiled information learned from research, interviews, and the stakeholder meeting and began outlining the most common barriers, model solar practices, and themes to encourage the installation of solar electric systems.
  • Recommend: As a final step, Clean Energy Coalition developed a report that included a set of recommendations that can be deployed in each community.

While report recommendations were geared toward the communities that were the primary focus of this project, the results may be applicable across the state.

Recommendations included:

  • Access to Information: Residents and businesses interested in solar installations need readily accessible information about the process. The report suggests providing clear instructions – in print and online – that detail how solar installation works in each jurisdiction.
  • Streamlined Permitting Process: The creation of uniform solar permitting procedures and checklists, reduced permit review periods, and a simplified inspection process across jurisdictions would significantly streamline the process of constructing solar PV.
  • Regional-Wide Approach to Planning and Zoning: The creation of a multi-jurisdictional solar advisory committee can facilitate a uniform Master Plan amendment to guide future solar panel installation. Consistent zoning language can help residents, businesses, developers, and installers understand regional expectation and make the area more attractive to solar industry development.