Date of Award

2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental and Energy Policy (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Social Sciences

Advisor 1

Chelsea Schelly

Committee Member 1

Richelle Winkler

Committee Member 2

Roman Sidortsov

Committee Member 3

Joshua Pearce

Abstract

Energy systems are complex, and this complexity requires diverse regulatory forms and strategies of management. Michigan’s energy system is situated within a multi-scalar governance structure reaching from national to local levels. As a result, the process of energy system decision-making can leave out smaller, remote communities and those without the economic, political, and knowledge capital necessary to engage in complex bureaucratic processes. These communities can become subject to high electricity prices and unreliable electrical service from long transmission and distribution lines, raising energy justice concerns. Additionally, resulting from utility regulatory practices, small remote communities are often not afforded the opportunity to explore alternative, local, and environmentally friendly energy generation sources. This dissertation utilizes data collected from two case study sites in Michigan to examine how decisions are made regarding energy system management, who participates in what forms of decision-making, what implications community solar can have for improving energy justice, and the role of energy policy. Specifically, the research attempts to examine how community solar may create more just energy systems and the particular policy and governance dimensions that shape the use of community solar for the pursuit of energy justice. Chapter 2 explores how Michigan investor-owned utilities interpret and implement energy laws to hinder distributed generation proliferation in Michigan. Chapter 3 reflects on the community engaged research process used to determine the viability of a community solar program. It argues for incorporating collaborative governance principles to further improve the community engaged research process to help insert local control and affordability into energy systems. Finally, chapter 4 utilizes and analyzes interview, focus group discussion, and survey data to understand from a community perspective what factors are important for community solar viability. It situates this data within the community social context as it recognizes that perceptions alone do not explain program viability. Energy justice does not apply to just one level of policy making. The subsequent implementation and decision-making process of these existing policies can be determined through collaborative governance strategies, such as community solar, that align with energy justice values.

Available for download on Friday, May 08, 2020

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