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Our Voices: Report: Countywide Efficiency Would Lift Local Economy

May 30, 2012 | By Jim Dulzo

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Two non-profits that recently managed a successful, door-to-door home energy-efficiency pilot program in Traverse City are now taking a next step.

The groups are putting the finishing touches on a study that indicates a similar program for all residential, commercial, and public buildings in Grand Traverse County would provide a strong, broad, and lasting stimulus to the local economy.

Homes like this one in Traverse City recently received significant energy upgrades as part of the TC Saves program. A new report shows that a county-wide energy efficiency program could produce nearly 100 jobs and return millions to the local economy annually.


So far the study, which is being produced by SEEDS and the Michigan Land Use Institute, is indicating that reducing energy use in all buildings in the county by 25 percent over 15 years would produce close to 100 new, long-term jobs. The project would also permanently release at least several million newly saved “energy dollars” into the local economy each year.

Entitled Energy Efficiency and Economic Opportunity in Grand Traverse County, the study estimates the costs, capital requirements, job-creating ability, and utility bill savings of an aggressive, locally financed program. It will be released on June 14 at a community leadership breakfast and summit hosted by MLUI at the Hagerty Center, in Traverse City.

You can register for the summit at www.mlui.org/summit.asp.

Barton Kirk, of SEEDS, is finalizing the study’s projections. He said indications are that a broad, ambitious campaign would create construction, retail, financing, and administrative jobs.

“One big lesson we’ve learned so far,” Kirk said, “is that things like interest rates and loan lengths for individual projects, and the pace at which we would move to meet the goal have a profound effect on costs, jobs produced, and return on investment.

“What we are doing now is searching for the ‘sweet spot’—the financing, timeline, and efficiency goal choices that produce the best economic results,” he added.

He said that each year the project would add several million dollars of new, disposable income to the local economy due to significant drops in residential, business, and governmental utility bills.

Brian Beauchamp, of MLUI, hopes the report, the summit’s keynote speech by international efficiency expert Peter Garforth, and follow-up panels offering success stories and local financing possibilities foster support for a communitywide energy-saving project.

Garforth, whose company, Garforth Internaltional LLC, is based in Toledo and Brussels, worked with Holland, Mich. officials last year to produce a community energy plan that uses efficiency programs to make the community more attractive to people and businesses while reducing climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

Garforth’s resume includes work for companies and cities in the U.S., Canada, Eastern and Western Europe, China, Indonesia, and Brazil. He describes his work as “profitable business development based on implementing energy productivity.”

The SEEDS/MLUI report explains that an ambitious efficiency campaign would boost local capital formation; maintain downward pressure on energy prices; capture “energy dollars” that would otherwise leave the state to purchase coal or other fossil fuels; delay or eliminate building expensive, new power plants; and cut air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Beauchamp, who went door-to-door in several Traverse City neighborhoods last fall and early winter signing up homeowners for an energy efficiency campaign dubbed TC Saves, said response was encouraging. But, he said, federal and state funding for the program, which made zero-interest loans to almost 200 homeowners ready to invest in insulation, high-efficiency furnaces, and other energy saving measures, is running out.

“We have to figure out how to permanently finance such efforts and expand them so that everyone in the county can participate,” he said. “Our report will likely show that finding a way to make locally based, easily repayable loans to residents, businesses, governments, and institutions for sizeable cuts in energy use would pay strong economic dividends for virtually everyone.”

The report uses economic modeling software developed by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, a national non-profit that provides research and policy advice to utilities, businesses, governments, policymakers, and clean energy advocates interested in the economic development power of energy efficiency projects.

The model was specially tweaked by ACEEE staff to closely reflect northwest Lower Michigan’s particular economic demographics.

SEEDS’ Kirk has a great deal of that information at his fingertips for the model. He worked with Grand Traverse County and City of Traverse City officials two years ago on the area’s first-ever public buildings greenhouse gas inventory—a widely accepted way to measure energy efficiency levels.

Beauchamp says MLUI’s June 14 breakfast is attracting strong interest, particularly from business people interested in cutting costs to remain competitive in a tough economy. He noted the strong support from the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, SEEDS, Northwestern Michigan College, and the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments as planning partners.

The event’s lead sponsor is Fifth Third Bank, backed by partner sponsors including Public Sector Consultants, and Traverse Area Association of Realtors, and others.

Doug DeYoung, Chamber vice president for government relations and business advocacy, said his organization is a partner in the breakfast summit because it sees how efficiency helps businesses.

“We are always looking for ways to assist businesses in saving money and impacting the bottom line of their operations on a daily basis,” DeYoung said. “In 2008 our energy task force identified energy efficiency as a low-hanging fruit, an easily accessed option to help our members lower their costs. It’s across the board: lighting, new heating and cooling, even major projects like replacing the roofing on their buildings.”

Jim Dulzo is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s senor editor. Reach him at jimdulzo@mlui.org

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