Wednesday, January 11, 2017

"What's the Deal with Solar?" presentation to be Jan. 12 at Orpheum Theater; Keweenaw Climate Community holds December discussions on Local Climate Action

By Michele Bourdieu, with information from Robert Handler, operations manager for Michigan Tech's Sustainable Futures Institute*

The Keweenaw Climate Community and Keweenaw Young Professionals will present "What's the Deal with Solar?" Thursday, Jan. 12, at the Orpheum Theater in Hancock. (Poster courtesy Keweenaw Young Professionals.)

HANCOCK -- The Keweenaw Climate Community (KCC) and Keweenaw Young Professionals will host "What's the Deal with Solar?" from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, at the Orpheum Theater in Hancock.

Joshua Pearce, Michigan Tech associate professor in Materials Science and Engineering and in Electrical and Computer Engineering, will explain the science behind solar and will discuss the benefits and challenges of using solar in the Keweenaw and what the future holds.

Pearce has done extensive research on solar energy, sustainable development, sustainability education and much more. He heads the Pearce Research Group, Michigan Tech's Lab in Open Sustainability Technology.**

Terance McNinch, who has lived more than 30 years off the grid with low-cost solar, will share his experience. He will speak about how he has seen the costs associated with solar setups change over the years.

Each guest speaker will give a presentation and answer questions afterwards.

The event is free and open to the public. Pizza will be served. BYOB. For more information contact the Keweenaw Young Professionals Board at

Inset photo of Joshua Pearce courtesy Michigan Tech University. Photo of Terance McNinch courtesy Keweenaw Young Professionals.)

December Climate Café: Groups discuss "Taking Local Climate Action"

Solar energy was among the topics discussed at the Keweenaw Climate Community's December 1, 2016, Climate Café, the fourth in a series of community discussions on climate change held at the Orpheum last fall. The December event attracted more than 75 community participants. Following some brief presentations by experts, the attendees broke into groups to discuss various options for local climate action. These included renewables, energy conservation, health impacts, education, local policy, and land adaptation.

"It was great to see such a strong turnout for our final event of the fall, and people came with a lot of good ideas about how we can address climate change in our local area," said KCC's Robert Handler, operations manager for Michigan Tech's Sustainable Futures Institute and master of ceremonies for the event.

Introduced by Handler, Dave Camps of Blue Terra Energy spoke about his work helping customers with solar and with LED lighting:

Dave Camps of Blue Terra Energy speaks about some solar alternatives to the grid, now that UPPCO (Upper Peninsula Power Company) no longer offers full net metering to residential solar customers. He also explains some advantages of LED lighting for commercial as well as residential use. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)


During the breakout session, Camps, along with Seamus Crane, helped lead a group discussion on renewables. Participants in that group discussed the following solar topics:
  • Solar -- wait until next year for legislation changes
  • Understand your house’s electricity demand and how it varies
  • Start with system design, consultation to see if it is worth the investment
  • Make people aware of solar as an option in this area, integration with storage (Tesla power walls, etc.)
  • Solar panel costs are decreasing every year
  • "Black on black" panels (black frame, black panel) are good for this area
  • Manual position changes are fine, 2x per yr
  • Microinverters make each panel its own power plant and can reduce effects of shading; individual panels can be swapped out if needed.
During the breakout session at the KCC December meeting on local climate action, Dave Camps leads the group discussion on renewables. (Photos by Keweenaw Now unless otherwise indicated.)

Energy Conservation

Melissa Davis, energy manager for the Houghton Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) and managing director for New Power Tour, spoke about HEET's accomplishments during the two-year period of competition for the Georgetown Energy Prize.

Melissa Davis, energy manager for the Houghton Energy Efficiency Team, speaks about local projects of energy conservation, including home insulation and LED lighting programs the group has been working on for the Georgetown Energy Prize and beyond.

Melissa Davis, along with Andy Roth and Parth Bhatt, led the energy conservation group discussion. This group discussed tying energy production to transportation. They talked about the feasibility of a regional public transit system with both long distance and local routes. An example might be transport twice a week from Houghton-Hancock to Iron Mountain or Marquette. They noted the need for community education on public transit.

Melissa Davis, second from left, facilitates the group discussion on energy conservation while Parth Bhatt, standing, takes notes.

They also discussed ways to assist low-income households with energy conservation by extending HEET group home weatherizations; including more advertising such as pamphlets listing benefits; going door-to-door talking to people; and recruiting volunteers from service organizations, high school and college groups, religious groups, etc. Engaging with renters was also discussed.

Health Impacts

Ray Sharp of the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department spoke about potential public health impacts of climate change in the not-so-distant, if not immediate, future.

Ray Sharp of the Western Upper Peninsula Health Dept. talks about potential dangers to public health that could result from warmer temperatures caused by climate change -- including mosquito-borne illnesses.

The message for the group discussion on health effects was to be on the lookout for things likely to increase, such as issues from warmer water temperatures or heavy rains: algal blooms, swimmers' itch, E-coli in water, etc. Communities should strengthen beach monitoring programs, promote more well testing and drain still-water areas where mosquitoes breed.

Ray Sharp, right, listens to participants in the group discussion on health effects.

As for diseases now common in the tropics that could spread north, local action can include raising awareness in local health care providers so they may increase testing and treatment capabilities.


The group discussion on education, facilitated by Andi Vendlinski and Stephen Handler, attracted a large number of participants, including children.

A variety of age groups are represented in the education group discussion.

Some of the many issues discussed included these:
  • Providing opportunities (and grants) for kids to learn what's going to happen with climate change, such as connections with  Michigan Tech organizations like the Sustainable Futures Institute, Green Campus Enterprise, and others
  • Tangible local projects, including recycling and incentives to reduce paper
  • Possibility of solar panels at schools
  • Educational opportunities for a variety of areas -- science, engineering, trades, etc.
  • Learning labs and electricity production
  • Opportunities for kids to engage in activism, such as writing letters to elected officials after they learn about a related issue -- energy, trash, recycling, renewables
  • Interact with small groups of students, after-school clubs
  • Introduce Earth Day activities
  • Find a group of teachers to pilot ideas
  • Get parents involved
Local Policy

Grayson Morrow of Wakefield spoke about the Citizens Climate Lobby.

Grayson Morrow of Wakefield speaks about his experience with the Citizens Climate Lobby.

Morrow also participated in the group discussion on local policy, led by Richelle Winkler, Michigan Tech associate professor of sociology and demography in Social Sciences.

Michigan Tech's Richelle Winkler (third from left in red) facilitates the group discussion on local policy. Standing at right is Nancy Langston, environmental historian and Michigan Tech professor in Social Sciences, Forestry and the Great Lakes Research Center.

Participants in the policy group discussed the need to understand what is in current versions of an upcoming energy bill and lobby to exert pressure for an increase in renewables, net metering, etc. (possibly through the Citizens Climate Lobby).

Other ideas they discussed were quite progressive, some raising questions to be researched:
  • Hancock could be an ideal location -- a whole town powered by solar. UPPCO would be reluctant. The City would need to create a municipal utility.
  • Explore the feasibilityof becoming a municipal utility. Do this as a negotiation tactic with UPPCO? Be familiar with the Michigan Public Service Commission and become aware of the issues.
  • REA/local co-op might be more realistic. Could REA members be convinced not to pay their bills (as protest)?
  • Does Keweenaw have local regulations inhibiting wind power installations? Small scale or large scale?
  • Partner with HEET and Keweenaw Community Foundation
  • Form a local chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL)
  • Re-connect with person from Traverse City about forming CCL
  • Reduce number of school buses, promote walking and biking and plowing sidewalks
  • Promote non-motorized travel more generally
  • Serve on planning boards and other local government groups
Land Adaptation

The land adaptation group, led by Todd Ontl and Kristin Schmitt, discussed sustainable agriculture -- how it affects the water table and soil carbon. They mentioned the importance of best practices, e.g., mulching gardens in the fall, planting cover crops, adding compost or other organic amendments.

Participants in the Land Adaptation group discuss a variety of topics related to sustainable agriculture. at far right is Todd Ontl, one of the coordinators of this group. 

Other topics included the following:
  • Wetlands -- preservation and remediation
  • Low impact development, how we will change our infrastructure
  • Climate change impacts to historic mining sites (e.g. extreme precipitation and mine tailings)
  • Invasive species, insect pests, tree pathogens: how they will affect our forests
  • Forest management for adaptation; particularly lack of sustainable forest management practices
  • Biomass for energy production; use of forest biomass in municipal energy production (L’Anse?)
  • Infrastructure compatibility
  • Wind power and agriculture
  • Michigan Public Service commission
  • Try to get net metering rules changed!
  • UPPCO won’t set up any more net metering for customers, won’t change unless they are made to change.
The group also discussed contacting the conservation districts (Houghton/Keweenaw and Marquette) about distributing info on climate change and forests during their annual tree sale, e.g., importance of wetlands, maintaining biodiversity, etc.


* KCC's Robert Handler, operations manager for Michigan Tech's Sustainable Futures Institute, served as Master of Ceremonies during the Dec. 1, 2016, Climate Café and compiled notes from the discussion groups summarized in this article.

** Click here to learn about the Pearce Research Group, Michigan Tech's Lab in Open Sustainability Technology.

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