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Michigan Readies Energy-Saving Loan Program

New rules aim to jumpstart efficiency, green power, and jobs

May 26, 2009 | By Jim Dulzo
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Allegheny Front
  Governor Granholm’s new program will provide loans for installing energy-saving and green-power devices, including solar panels.
LANSING—Three months ago, Governor Jennifer M. Granholm ordered the state to write new rules that would make it financially easier for Michiganders to invest in their homes’ or small businesses’ energy efficiency.

Now a top administration official says residents will soon see the first results of the governor’s initiative, which she says will quickly create thousands of new jobs.

Interviewed during the state’s Green Today, Jobs Tomorrow conference earlier this month, Leisl Clark, deputy director of the state Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth, told the Great Lakes Bulletin News Service that the new rules would begin rolling out in June. Those rules, according to Ms. Clark, would establish a new “pay as you save” system to finance efficiency and renewable energy systems that can sharply cut homeowners’ and businesses’ energy use.

The low-interest loans would pay for better building insulation, more efficient appliances, or small solar- or wind-power systems that reduce the amount of electricity a home or business needs to buy from a utility. A portion of the energy dollars saved would then be used to pay back the loans.

According to Ms. Clark, the new rules, which are being written by the Michigan Public Service Commission, will also funnel $243 million from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to a state home weatherization program aimed at low-income families. That money will come to families in the form of direct grants, and will not require repayment.

The governor—and DELEG staff—expect the energy-saving measures to quickly create thousands of new jobs in a wide variety of building trades as homeowners and businesses hire companies to install insulation, more efficient windows and appliances, and home-scale solar panels and wind turbines. Earlier this week, the governor announced that training programs for these services would largely be directed to communities hardest hit by the auto industry layoffs rocking the foundations of Michigan’s economy.

During her interview, the Deputy Director Clark also confirmed that the governor is “very interested” in so-called “feed-in tariffs,” which would establish long-term purchase agreements and set rates for home-scale clean-energy generators who want to sell power directly to their local utility. Ms. Clark said that the MPSC might establish several pilot programs to test the innovative policy, which is already saving energy and creating jobs in about 40 other countries.

“However,” she added, “to put a feed-in tariff into place, what will need to happen, if it were to be statewide, would be legislative change. There is a bill in the House, Representative Gonsalez’s bill, to do that work.”

That bill, which was first introduced in the House by former Representative Kathleen Law, has yet to receive an initial hearing.

Jim Dulzo is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s managing editor and co-ordinates the organization’s Coal and Clean Energy program. Reach him at jimdulzo@mlui.org.

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