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A Michigan City Receives a Solar Solution

After the electric company removed more than 1,000 Highland Park streetlights due to the municipality's unpaid bills, a community-based nonprofit is brightening the night

A solar-powered street light in Highland Falls, Michigan

Photo courtesy of Solartonic LLC

Solar-powered streetlights installed by the nonprofit Soulardarity are helping brighten the nights in Highland Park, Michigan.

"The lack of street lighting is a critical issue for Highland Parkers. A recent community survey showed that 97.8 percent of Highland Park adults are concerned about the lack of street lightng and 71 percent described street lighting on their block as inadequate or nonexistent. Over 90 percent said that light was important or critically important to the functions of their daily life and related or highly related to feeling safe in their neighborhood at night."

— from a 2016 proposal titled "Let There Be Light: Building a Brighter Future in Highland Park"

As part of a deal to resolve $4 million of debt to the local utility and reduce a reported $60,000 per-month electric bill, in 2011 DTE Energy removed more than 1,000 city streetlights in Highland Park, leaving the community's 10,000 residents in the dark.

In response to the debt-imposed blackout, Soulardarity, a grassroots collective nonprofit, began raising money to install solar-powered streetlights on Highland Park's dark streets.

The installation cost of a solar streetlight ranges from $6,500 to $10,000, with maintenance costs of $100 per year per light. In 2012 the group's Solar Streetlights initiative raised enough money through a crowd-funding campaign to purchase a single streetlight, which it installed at 150 Victor Street, near the site of pioneering automaker Henry Ford's historic Highland Park factory.

A few years later, a few more streetlights went up, one in front of resident Nandi Frye's house.

"That light, it really shines bright on my street. I love that solar light," she told Michigan Radio.

In 2016, Soulardarity installed 50 home and alley lights. The program has expanded from basic models to include commercial and alley level lighting as well as solar phone chargers and solar generators.

The ultimate goal is to restore all of the city's streetlights. Unfortunately, unless a wealthy benefactor appears, that moment could be light years away. But with the people power behind an effort called the "Let There Be Light initiative, there is hope that throughout the city's streets there will, eventually, be light.

Highland Park is a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities

This article is adapted from the "Public Places and Outdoor Spaces" chapter of the AARP book Where We Live: Communities for All Ages — 100+ Inspiring Ideas From America’s Community Leaders. Download or order your free copy.

Page published November 2017 

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