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Thursday, July 19, 2018

2018 Doris Duke Scholars: How We Spent Our Summer Vacation

5 Lessons Learned While Working With the Sierra Club

Gabbie Buendia and Emily Rau are scholars in the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program (DDCSP) at the University of Michigan’s School for the Environment and Sustainability and are working for the Sierra Club as Great Lakes Program interns for the Summer 2018. DDCSP is a two-year, fully-funded research and internship program for undergraduate students interested in conservation and environmental justice. Gabbie is from Orlando, Fla., and will be a senior at Rollins College majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in Women and Gender Studies. Emily is from Oak Creek, Wis., and will be a senior at University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in Environmental Sciences with a certificate in Sustainability.

Our main focus this summer was working with the Rain Gardens to the Rescue program. This program teaches interested Detroit residents about the benefits and construction of rain gardens. Once residents graduate from the program, Friends of the Rouge and Sierra Club assist them in the creation of their own garden. After three years of training residents through these workshops, the goal is to create a secondary level program. This new program will train original program graduates to install rain gardens for other residents. To support the creation of this new program, we have been compiling evidence to help validate its need. In order to familiarize ourselves with this issue, we conducted market research on green stormwater infrastructure (GSI). The market research evaluated the potential of the GSI workforce in Detroit. The GSI workforce includes the installment and maintenance of rain gardens that program graduates would be involved in. We found that the job market can be accessible and profitable for many Detroit residents.

With this new understanding, we launched ourselves into the field to take inventory of the 52 rain gardens that had been planted around the city in the past three years. We took measurements, rated garden maintenance level, and took photos at each site in order to see how the gardens have been holding up. Finally, to fortify the value of residential rain gardens, we constructed and learned about water sensor nodes with the Real Time Water Systems Lab at the University of Michigan. GI sensor nodes would be installed in rain gardens to measure the infiltration rate of storm water through the soil. This data could then be used as evidence to showcase the efficiency of rain gardens.

Overall, this summer was filled with new experiences that have challenged us to learn new skills and have shown us the true beauty of Detroit. From the beginning of our research to our last measurement taken in the field, we have learned a number of lessons about green stormwater infrastructure, making change in the community, and conducting effective
collaboration. Below are just five of the lessons learned this summer that will have a lasting impact on us:

1. Rain gardens are most effective within a larger network of green stormwater infrastructure. Rain gardens may look small, but their impact can be big when paired with other green infrastructure all throughout the city. Rain gardens are cost effective and low maintenance, making them an ideal supplement for stormwater management. Additionally, rain gardens add beauty to the landscape, bringing native plants back to the area and removing pollutants from water. All of which leads us to our next lesson learned...

2. Fostering a sense of place and community improves the health of the environment. The Rain Gardens to the Rescue program gives Detroiters autonomy in beautifying their yards and pride in the landscapes that they have created. We met many residents that were proud of their beautiful rain gardens and excited about seeing more of them around the city. It is with this kind of enthusiasm that the strong networks of green stormwater infrastructure discussed above can thrive.

3. Water safety and security presents unique issues to cities all over the country. Although we have spent this summer learning about the Great Lakes water system, many of the issues and concerns are familiar. Among many factors, the future of Detroit’s water is threatened by pollution, invasive species, algal blooms, and poor infrastructure. These problems echo all throughout America. We aim to take the information and strategies on water safety that we learned in Detroit back to our hometowns.

4. Change requires collaboration. We went to many meetings this summer and witnessed many different working groups in action. Through it all, we have learned that these meetings and discussions are necessary for real, inclusive impact. Without collaboration, the distinct needs of the city, community organizations, and individual residents cannot be fully incorporated into meaningful plans for change.

5. Non-profit work requires versatility and flexibility. Our work this summer has taken us to places and introduced us to people that we would never thought we would be interacting with. This includes a visit to an engineering lab where we built a water sensor from scratch and a talk with a librarian about how to conduct market research. Although we did not have experience with many of the topics we encountered, being enthusiastic about learning made the process easier and more beneficial to everyone in the long run.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Energy Internship

2018/19 Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Energy Internship
(West Michigan)

What is the Sierra Club?
The Sierra Club's members and supporters are more than 3 million of your friends and neighbors. Inspired by nature, we work together to protect our communities and the planet. Founded in 1892, the Club is America's oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organization. Our mission is to: (1) Explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; (2) Practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; (3) Educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and (4) Use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.

Dates of Internship: (approximately)  Summer (short internships -July - August)  
Fall - (September-December ) 
Winter - (January - May)

Hours: Average 10 hours per week, flexible and can be worked around your school schedule

Location: West Michigan--Work from home, occasional in-person meetings, some attendance at local events

Internship Responsibilities
You will be directly assisting one to two Sierra Club Michigan Chapter staff with their organizing work on the Beyond Coal Campaign and Ready for 100 Campaign.

Responsibilities may include:
  • Social media posts for local events
  • Calling and emailing volunteers to attend events
  • Attending local community events and Sierra Club events
  • Assist with event organizing
  • Help with outreach to gain more volunteers and supporters for current work
The ideal applicant will have relevant coursework or a major in environmental studies, political science, or related studies. Good writing and research skills as well as a knowledge or interest in environmental issues and energy issues in particular, and proficiency in Microsoft Office, Google Documents, and social media. Ability to work independently.  Strongly self-motivated.

Compensation:  Internship comes with a stipend

Deadline to apply: Ongoing

Contact:  Jan O’Connell, 616-956-6646, jan.oconnell@sierraclub.org  OR
Jordan Chrispell, jordan.chrispell@sierraclub.org, 231-920-7481

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Michigan Chapter Welcomes Two Doris Duke Scholars

Gabby Buendia
My name is Gabbie Buendia and I am senior at Rollins College in my hometown of Orlando, Florida where I study Environmental Studies and Women and Gender Studies. I am working with Sierra Club in Detroit this summer as part of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program (DDCSP) based at the University of Michigan. DDCSP gives undergraduate students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the environmental field through research and internship experiences spanning two summers. This is my second summer here in Michigan after working at the University’s Center for Sustainable Systems my first year. My work this summer is focused on the Great Lakes Program and involves mapping, researching, and taking inventory of Detroit’s rain gardens and other green stormwater infrastructure.

My passion for this work was sparked by a class on Culture and the Environment. Since then, my interests have extended to environmental justice, environmental feminism, access to green spaces, and education. As I prepare for the workforce, I look forward to gaining more experience in community organizing and research. I have already been challenged this summer by the introduction of many new skills including how to conduct market research and how to construct and program a water sensor.

In my spare time, I love to go hiking and do Pilates. I also keep myself busy on campus with my involvement in managing the campus Women’s Center and serving as a sustainability coordinator. I am so excited to be working with the Sierra Club and hope to adapt the skills I gain this summer to improve my local community. 
Emily Rau


My name is Emily Rau and I am a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar interning at the Great Lakes Program in Detroit. I am currently a Senior at University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in Environmental Sciences with a certificate in Sustainability.

This is my second summer in Michigan apart of the Doris Duke Scholars Program at the University of Michigan. DDCSP is a 2-year, fully-funded research and internship program for undergraduate students interested in conservation and the environment. Last summer I conducted research on component use patterns used in case studies for the Michigan Sustainability Cases in the School for Environment and Sustainability.

I am ecstatic to be working with the Michigan Chapter’s Great Lakes Program this summer! Growing up a mile away from Lake Michigan has allowed me to appreciate what the Great Lakes have to offer and to understand how important it is to take care of the freshwater we have for the public good and conservation. I also am interested in water management and freshwater ecology making this internship the perfect fit for me by helping out with green stormwater infrastructure projects. Throughout the next two months I will be working on taking inventory of the 50 rain gardens the Sierra Club has helped build, mapping green infrastructure around Detroit, and developing a market analysis report on green infrastructure jobs.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Sierra Club Solar Partners Answer Questions about the Future of Net Metering

Is this your last chance for a Net Metered Solar Array in Michigan?

In recent months, there have been so many questions surrounding Net Metering. So many that our solar partners, Michigan Solar Solutions and Solar Winds, feel it is time to explain what is going on with the program and how current and future solar array owners in the DTE and Consumers Energy territories have the knowledge to maneuver in the solar incentive arena while the utilities and Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) prepare to end the program.

   First Question (and a good question) is What is Net Metering?

Net Metering is the process where solar power producers put mostly peak power onto the grid at mes when they produce more power than they can consume, and take mostly off-peak power off the grid at night or when their system is not producing enough power.

On a small scale, lets say that a solar array is producing three kilowatt hours and the building is using one kilowatt  hour--simple math shows us that there is excess power in the mix of two kilowatt hours at that moment in time. The excess power is pushed back to the grid (outflow) and the net metering customer is credited two kilowatt   hours on their bill at a rate equivalent to what they are paying their utility provider. On the other side of the equation if the same user is consuming 4 kilowatt hours, the bill would reflect a charge (inow) for one kilowatt hour.

The utility companies currently charge as much as 300% more for peak power than they do for o-peak power. It is important to note that solar power is consumed mostly in peak periods and the outflow is sent to the grid.

Michigan residents/businesses, who are currently enrolled in the net metering program have been content with an equal 1-for-1 credit, but sadly, the utility companies are not; independently owned solar energy producers are perceived as competition. Since Net Metering customers are the rst competition many of these monopolies have seen, DTE and Consumers Energy have been relentless in their pursuit to end Net Metering. With that said, though, other states have successfully gone through the process of assessing the true value of solar power and are finding that solar power is worth much more than regular power.

   Isn’t Power -- Power? How can the True Value of Solar Power be Determined as Worth More?

Yes, Peak/O-Peak valuation is one reason. Another reason is the practice of building more power plants when peak demand nears full capacity so brownouts or blackouts are not experienced.

With enough solar power feeding the grid we do not need these new power plants. It is a desirable practice for a utility company to build a new power plant because, once they get approved, they are automatically guaranteed to make a little over 10% on the cost of the construction of the new plant. The new $1,000,000,000.00 (one billion) gas red power plant in St. Clair that the MPSC just approved for DTE guarantees them over $100,000,000.00 (one-hundred million) in profit. With cost overruns it will be more.

When the owner of a building makes over 10% on all cost overruns then, of course, there will be cost overruns. DTEs ratepayers will be paying for this plant along with DTEs profits for building it, for many years to come.

   Is Solar Power Supported on Both Sides of the Aisle in the State of Michigan?

Solar power is no longer a Democrat versus Republican issue. Solar power is now supported by both sides of the aisle.   All recent polls regarding support for solar have shown over 70% of Michigans residents support solar power.

This was recently reaffirmed by the tax exemption bill for solar being sponsored by a Republican legislator and passed out of a mostly conservative tax committee with an 11 – 2 vote.

   Is Net Metering Scheduled to End For DTE & Consumers Energy Customers? If so, When?

Here is the timeline with details:

    June 1, 2018: Deadline for Publicly regulated utility company to submit a rate case to the MPSC. With the rate case, they are required to include the replacement for Net Metering called Distributed Generation.

    The utility companies will propose to the MPSC what they want to pay solar system owners for the power they send to the grid. The MPSC will take 10 to 12 months to work with the utility company to finalize what the reimbursement will be.

The Good News!
  • All system owners that have applied for Net Metering prior to early/mid 2019 will be grandfathered in for 10 years.
  • Installing Solar before Distributed Generation will lock solar system owners into the Net Metering Program. So, NOW is the time to Install a Solar Array! 
  • If the reimbursement rate ever exceeds the purchase price for power, the solar system owner can opt out of their grandfather and enter the new Distributed Generation tari.

   Is there a way to Demand a Decent Rate of Reimbursement of Kilowatts Produced by Our Solar Array?

If we are going to get solar power producers a fair price that is representative of the value of this resource and the monies it saves all ratepayers, then we need to contact our Michigan legislators and demand they pass the Energy Freedom package -  House Bills 5861-5865--which would ensure that rooftop solar owners get a fair price for the excess energy they share with the grid. Find more info on this proposal here.

Please take a moment this summer to call your state Representative (find them here) and state Senator (find them here) and demand that they support House Bills 5861-5865. Demand that they side with over 70% of Michigans residents and set the reimbursement rate for power sent to the grid to be on par with the value of the resource.

A 1-for-1 credit is the baseline for where this needs to be. If it is going to reflect the cost savings to all ratepayers for peak power vs. o-peak power and not needing more billion-dollar plants, then there should be a premium.

And contact the MPSC to tell them the same thing!

MPSC                                                                           MPSC
Sally Talberg – Chairperson                                        Julie Baldwin, Manager
517-284-8330                                                              Renewable Energy Secon
Michigan Public Service Commission                         Michigan Public Service Commission
PO Box 30221                                                             517 284-8318
Lansing, MI 48909                                                      Baldwinj2@michigan.gov

It has never been more important than it is now for you to start a letter, email or phone  campaign to make your voice  heard. The utility companies spend millions in their lobbying eorts -- we just have each other.

Please keep in mind, that the power from your electricity provider is not a good investment -- it is a negative return on investment (ROI). Investing in Solar Photovoltaics (PV) gets you a positive ROI and shows up on your power bill as monthly credits for power generated, and you have an actual payoff date and the promise of low-cost power for decades to come.

Also, do not hesitate to give one of the Sierra Club Solar Partners a call to discuss how a solar array will fit into your ecological and financial future.

Sierra Club Solar Partners,

Mark Hagerty                                                                          Mike Linsea
Michigan Solar Solutions                                                       Solar Winds Power Systems
248 520-2474                                                                         616 635-7855