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Ten years ago, the city of Highland Park, Michigan, was struggling to pay its utility bills. So as part of a debt settlement with the city, the local utility re-possessed more than 1,000 street lights.

Residents were stunned to be left in the dark.

“The only thing that’s left remaining is the stumps of the lights with some of the wires,” says Shimekia Nichols, executive director of Soulardarity, a local nonprofit.

She says residents worried about safety.

“Residents began to just light the streets using their own porch lights and yard lamps to try to make it remain safe,” she says.

So some community members began crowdfunding for new solar-powered street lights. And they formed Soulardarity to advocate for utility rate limits and more transparency from the city.

The organization has since installed 18 off-grid solar street lights in the city, including in a neighborhood called Avalon Village. 

“And so these street lights were a way to just bring some more light and some more hope to that area,” Nichols says.

The success of the project has led to a wider push for locally owned solar in Highland Park and the surrounding area – so residents can enjoy lower bills and more independence from the utility.

Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media