Long known as “The Motor City,” Detroit is transforming into “The Solar City.” Mayor Mike Duggan has announced an innovative policy that will pay neighborhoods for hosting solar panels. The solar panels will eventually provide power for all of Detroit’s municipal buildings, including police buildings, fire stations, and recreation centers. 


The city intends to offer $25,000 per acre in community benefits to the neighborhoods hosting the solar projects. These benefits could include neighborhood beautification, home repair, or energy efficiency. Local residents will have the final say as to what specific projects to pursue. 


The city plans to construct 250 acres of panels as quickly as possible. It’ll leverage federal credits and incentives to offset panel costs. Mayor Duggan is especially hopeful that solar energy projects will be concentrated on vacant land. 


The collapse of the manufacturing sector has caused anywhere from 17% to 29% of Detroit’s land to be vacant, according to a 2019 Detroit Free Press investigation. Vacant land has contributed to a host of social problems, including violent crime and illegal dumping. 


Although Detroit’s new solar energy plan offers exciting urban renewal opportunities, Mayor Duggan stressed that he would not force any neighborhood to embrace solar panels. “I want each community to decide for itself. Is this right for us? And if it’s not, we’re not going to pursue it,” Duggan said in a June 28 presentation. 


Other US cities have already reaped substantial rewards for turning their vacant land into solar farms. In 2014, Evergreen Energy Solutions installed a solar farm on six acres of vacant land in Cleveland, Ohio. The project, which received recognition from President Obama, has helped institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Art to save thousands of dollars in energy bills. 


To be eligible for funding, neighborhood groups must submit proposals to Detroit’s local government by October 2. The government will hire private solar developers to execute approved projects.