Case Study: Whispering Pines – A Community’s Journey to a Sustainable Future with Eco-Friendly Electric Generators


As our world wrestles with the all-too-real impacts of climate change, we’re served mostly bad news about the damage happening here, now, in real time. But the energy being generated to replace the darker woods of that bad-news story is beginning to light some work paths (not terribly well-trod just yet) that may eventually lead into the happy-there’s-still-hope twist communities need to hear and put in place. Carrying the banner for that twist is good ol’ Whispering Pines, a small midwestern town in the USA. And what they’ve pulled off may have some larger import; it may carry some clues for any other communities yearning to put a fresh, new and somewhat hush-hush energy plan into play. Why? Because our world is likely not going to make it unless we lasso in the towns as well as the cities that are a half a world away in the green new deal.

The Challenge: Energy Insecurity and Environmental Concerns

Whispering Pines was a long way from anywhere and, until recently, was at the mercy of an outdated, centralized power system that was most stressed during times of peak demand, which usually meant the coldest, darkest, most storm-beset stretches of winter. Some years, power didn’t fail; but when it did, the whole town went black. And in recent years, as people have wanted to be both more green and more in charge of their energy bills, it just made more sense to go our own way.

The Solution: Eco-Friendly Electric Generators

  • Whispering Pines arrived at the decision, after plenty of research and community dialogue, that it makes sense to power up with a network of off-the-grid electric generators. The townsfolk are all in. The project is off and running and already serving as a model for other northern Michigan towns to emulate.
  • Count on solar panels. Count on wind turbines. Count on a mini, local hydroelectric plant. All of the above serve as the town’s new, clean energy power supply, installed within the past year. They work fine on their own, are carbon-negative, and they don’t call for actually building an electric power supply network from scratch or using eminent domain to secure the necessary acres to do so.
  • Since more or less abandoning the internal combustion engine, Whispering Pines might be the next best thing to a sign saying, “Tesla, make us your next Gigafactory.”

The Results: A Resilient and Sustainable Community

Whispering Pines has been completely transformed by the green electricity project. It has gone from being a coal-powered town with an unreliable supply from the grid to a place with locally generated power from a river plant just outside town that makes use of the rainwater coming off the mini mountain range. Local citizens have a much-increased stake in their power supply as a result of this not-so-secret plant. And they obtained energy much more cheaply. Professor Tom Phelan and his community can justly claim an increase in jobs because of the plant. The economic benefits, of course, are also coming from not paying to import power. By any reasonable estimate, the Whispering Pines hydroelectric project was a quite successful one.

Lessons Learned and Future Outlook

Whispering Pines shows that even small communities can make the shift toward sustainability using green technologies. A local community in Wisconsin, the town has strengthened its sustainable energy initiatives over the years. Involving residents in the decision-making process ensures that the facilities built using Whispering Pines as a model are suited to the needs of the people and the capabilities at hand. “In the end, you might build a facility that’s perfect in every engineering aspect,” says Taylor. “But if it’s in the wrong location or doesn’t fit in with the natural rhythms of the people using it, it’s a failure.”


The tale of Whispering Pines is one of a common purpose, told among scaling living spaces that reach toward a sky far above a more immediate landscape. This reimagined hotel pays homage to its renovated mission—under new management, it’s no longer a cheap motel on a dark side street and promises to offer more when money’s involved instead of taking less away. Cleanliness is close to godliness here, and that’s a good thing both for the now jittery manager (who doesn’t want to “end up like that”) and for a traveling salesperson who’s been burning the candle at both ends and needs a quiet room for a restful night’s sleep.

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