Highland Park, Michigan, a predominantly black community surrounded by Detroit, has been facing challenges in obtaining affordable energy due to aging infrastructure. In 2011 Highland Park’s streetlights were repossessed due to $4 million in unpaid street lighting bills. Three years later, the city of Detroit paid $185 million to replace forty percent of its streetlights which were no longer working. Failing infrastructure not only impacts municipal budgets, it also diminishes community residents’ quality of life and impacts household finances, as J. Gabriel Ware reported for YES! Magazine in January, 2018. Low-income households often spend ten percent of their income on electricity—four times more than the average household.
Fortunately, Ali Duril was working to change these issues. Dirul started Ryter Cooperative Industries (RCI) a low-profit, limited liability project management company that works with grassroots organizations to implement sustainable and renewable energy projects in metro Detroit area neighborhoods. Founded in 2015, RCI educates and trains resident to implement renewable energy—including, especially, solar energy— themselves, in order to reduce their energy costs and empower them as community members.
RCI partnered with Solidarity, a community nonprofit focused on clean energy justice, to help communities make cost effective decisions regarding energy. They also collaborated with other companies to create new products including building net-zero energy homes—homes that produce their own renewable energy. RCI has also created solar-powered lawn mowers and installed solar-powered cell phone charging stations. RCI’s most acclaimed project so far is the implementation of Detroit’s first solar power generation plant that is fully off-grid. The plant does not rely on any electrical infrastructure, and it runs entirely on solar power.
Malik Yakini, who runs D-Town Farm where the plant is located, said, “We’re putting forward the new paradigm—a new way that human beings should live, that’s not heavily invested in carbon.” Duril has taken tremendous steps in educating future generations about renewable energy and its benefits. He noted, “Renewable and alternative energy is scary for a lot of people, but once you understand it, and understand the principles behind it, it’s much more accessible to people who would otherwise not have an opportunity to see it.”
Source: J. Gabriel Ware, “Meet the Man Bringing Cheap Renewable Energy to His Hometown,” YES! Magazine, January 26, 2018, http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/meet-the-man-bringing-cheap-renewable-energy-to-his-hometown-20180126.
Student Researcher: Malcolm Pinson (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)