Tracking Renewable Energy Values, Benefits, and Concerns in Michigan: In the Media and at Public Meetings

Prepared for the Michigan Energy Office Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy

This report identifies the most commonly mentioned values, benefits, and concerns associated with utility-scale wind and solar development projects, as identified over the course of a 3-month pilot project in the State of Michigan (MI). Bessette and DePew attended 11 public meetings and conducted an in-depth content analysis of over 200 print and online Michigan news media articles associated with wind or solar development in the state. As such, the values and beliefs reported here are associated specifically with 11 solar projects and 16 wind projects1, each at different stages of development across the state. While all of the public meetings we attended occurred during the Summer of 2019—with the exception of one meeting for which we reviewed its transcript (in Kent County: 4/23/19), the news articles reported on here predominantly span the last two years (2018-2019). Due to the short duration of this project, the results described herein are not intended to be representative, but are instead intended to serve as a meaningful sample of the values and concerns held by residents experiencing wind and solar farm development in their communities.

It is our recommendation that efforts be taken to meaningfully address the values and concerns reported on here in current and future wind and solar development processes in Michigan. In particular, we recommend translating these results into a community-specific and resident-focused guidebook entitled, What you need to know about wind and/or solar development in your community.” Such a guidebook could be made available online or for print and distribution at public meetings or by local officials and renewable developers.

Addressing these concerns may be especially important in MI as development of utility-scale wind and solar energy systems is often quite contentious, perhaps more so than in other Midwestern states. At public meetings, across social media, and in the popular press, MI residents and representatives often laud renewables as a panacea or stamp them as a menace. Often these arguments are informed by or speak directly to individuals’ deeply held values, beliefs, and fears about either renewable energy in general or the specific impacts that may be associated with local projects.

These values and concerns are sometimes informed by, but not always supported by, the results of technical analyses or economic projections. This type of affect-rich, heavily value- laden, debate is not uncommon in the public policy sphere and is critical for unearthing and articulating individuals’ and communities’ most important values and objectives (Arvai, Gregory et al. 2012). A rigorous accounting of these articulated values ultimately allows for a more accurate and explicit analysis of tradeoffs, and hopefully more value-focused and value- consistent policy development and decision-making processes (Bessette, Wilson et al. 2019).

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