Exploring the Impact of Renewable Energy on Rural Communities
In this episode of Michigan Minds, Sarah Mills, senior research specialist and program manager at the Ford School of Public Policy and the Graham Sustainability Institute, discusses her research examining the impact of renewable energy on rural communities and how state and local policies affect whether communities can actually get renewable energy projects built.
After driving through Michigan’s biggest wind farm in Gratiot County and talking with the land use planners about farmland preservation, she decided to focus her dissertation on understanding the link between energy development and farm preservation.
“Subsequent to that, I really got interested in understanding the other implications of energy development on rural communities and why different communities respond differently. And, seeing how state and local policies don’t always align, or sometimes work at cross purposes, to help communities see the visible benefits of renewable energy,” Mills says.
She also outlines common myths and misconceptions on both sides of the renewable energy debate.
“Every energy source has both positive and negative impacts, and that’s why it’s really important to understand those and go into it with your eyes wide open about what the unintended consequences could be,” she says.
Mills adds that every energy source has a local impact as well as the global impact that is more often discussed.
“If nothing else, they change the scenery,” she says. “I think it’s really important that we be truthful in talking to communities about what the local benefits are and what impacts it might have, so they can feel empowered that they’re choosing to be a part of an energy transition rather than having it foisted upon them.”