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Saving Energy & Creating Jobs

Expert says countywide efficiency program could bring jobs, cut costs

Efficiency First | June 15, 2012 | By Glenn Puit

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The Traverse City community could see spectacular growth in jobs and economic development for at least three decades and cut its overall energy costs between 50 and 70 percent by adopting an aggressive, countywide energy efficiency program. Even a more modest approach could provide both strong growth and a significant number of new jobs over the same period.

Energy Expert Peter Garforth spoke to nearly 200 people in Traverse City during the Leadership Summit on Energy Efficiency and Local Economic Opportunity. The June 14, 2012 event was sponsored by the Michigan Land Use Institute.

Those were the main messages yesterday from Peter Garforth, an international expert on energy, and from a new, locally produced economic report. Both were highlights at the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Community Leadership Summit, held at the Hagerty Center in Traverse City yesterday morning. The event drew nearly 200 people, from business executives to government officials and non-profits, for a community dialogue on how energy efficiency can save Grand Traverse County residents, businesses, and governments millions of energy dollars.

“In terms of (energy efficiency’s) potential to create jobs, (it is) substantial,” said Mr. Garforth, who has more than 30 years’ experience managing efficiency projects for large international companies and communities around the globe. He also helped author the City of Holland’s Energy Efficiency Strategy.

“In terms of the potential to contain energy costs, probably 50 to 60 to 70 percent of what they would have been (for Grand Traverse)–very high. In terms of creating a new value for the community to attract a combination of tourism, visibility, reputation and investors, extremely high.”

The report, produced by MLUI and area non-profit SEEDS, was presented to the audience before Mr. Garforth’s keynote address. Entitled Energy Efficiency and Economic Prosperity in Grand Traverse County, the paper found that public investment in the county’s municipal buildings would quickly begin saving tax dollars; that investment of bonded or private, interest-subsidy funds in residential efficiency in Grand Traverse County would gradually pay back homeowners and produce a large number of jobs; and that using a similar approach for commercial buildings could quickly cut businesses’ energy costs without burdening their cash flow.

Given the strong turnout of community leaders and the enthusiasm produced by both Mr. Garforth and the white paper, produced by MLUI with assistance from a fellow non-profit, SEEDS—the summit could be a seminal moment in a budding movement to make the Traverse City area a national energy efficiency leader. With several non-profits and the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce already implementing promising energy efficiency programs, the strong turnout by local leaders indicated broad and growing interest in developing comprehensive plan for saving energy in all of the county’s residential, commercial and public buildings.

The results of such a movement, if successful, could be profound for the region.

“Think of the big picture,” said Mr. Garforth, of Garforth International LLC, as he urged those in the room to take “a different view of energy.”

“Traditionally when we think of energy efficiency, we think of it at the building level, if we think about it at all,” he said. “(But) if you think about it at the community level, a whole added range of things happen.

“Think of the big conversation, which is measured in billions of dollars at a national level, millions at a community level, and hundreds of thousands of dollars at a building level,” he said.

Mr. Garforth’s message that Traverse City and the surrounding region could foster a very formidable economic development engine through energy efficiency was bolstered by the MLUI report.

“Since there are far more businesses than public buildings in the county, most with large energy savings opportunities, (an energy efficiency) program would create many long-term, good paying local jobs in finance, contracting, construction trades, engineering and retail, and free up millions of energy dollars for other business uses,” the report states.

Thursday’s community conversation also featured panel discussions about current energy efficiency opportunities already available in Grand Traverse. Topics included:

– A business loan program administered by the chamber, which helps local businesses fund energy efficiency programs.

– A look at TC Saves, an energy efficiency program that offers audits and low-interest loans to homeowners, goes citywide this summer. MLUI and SEEDs are marketing and administering the program.

– A description of an innovative program, called PACE, that is starting to fund commercial energy efficiency improvements in Ann Arbor. The program could be adopted by any municipality or development authority in the state.

– The sizeable financial savings that ConeDrive, a Traverse City company, realized by implementing strong energy efficiency measures.

“We believe energy efficiency is part of doing business,” said Doug DeYoung of the chamber. “When you do business, you are looking at overall cost savings, and way to provide your product at the best price on the market, so you have to look at transportation and energy costs all the way across the board.”

MLUI Executive Director Hans Voss challenged the audience to take the next step and get involved in energy efficiency, whether by participating in the Grand Vision, upgrading their business or home with retrofits, or insisting that new development in the community is as energy efficient as possible.

“We saw (today) that there are many vehicles for energy efficiency in play right now, and that we are headed in the right direction,” said Mr. Voss. “(We also saw) the big picture, and the opportunities that we have to establish our region as a leader in the country.”

You can find Mr. Garforth’s Traverse City presentation here:

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