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June 10, 2012

Forum: Improve energy and create jobs? Yes

Times remain tough in northern Michigan, with our unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent.

That statistic, of course, translates into many of our families struggling to pay for basic necessities such as food, transportation and energy.

But right here in northern Michigan, we could create a common-sense mechanism that would save many people money and produce new jobs: a comprehensive energy efficiency campaign for Grand Traverse County.

A new study prepared by the non-profit I lead, the Michigan Land Use Institute, with great assistance from the non-profit group SEEDS, shows such a campaign would provide close to 100 new, long-term jobs and return several million dollars back into the local economy annually.

The report, Energy Efficiency and Economic Opportunity in Grand Traverse County, will be unveiled Thursday at a leadership breakfast and summit hosted by MLUI at the Hagerty Center in Traverse City. The study estimates the costs, capital requirements, job-creating ability, and utility bill savings of an aggressive, locally financed program for energy efficiency improvements for residential, commercial, and public buildings in the county.

Barton Kirk, of SEEDS, 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."

The report says the project would annually add several million dollars of new, sustainable income to the local economy due to significant drops in residential, business, and governmental utility bills. It 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.

Our experience suggests such a campaign would be well received. Last year, MLUI and SEEDS partnered with Traverse City on an innovative residential retrofit program called TC Saves. That program, piloted in two Traverse City neighborhoods last fall, is now, thanks to citizen support, expanding to all Traverse City residents and will offer home energy assessments and low-interest financing for energy-saving improvements. It's a great next step in what promises to be a good thing for home comfort and affordability.

As Brian Beauchamp, a policy specialist at MLUI who oversaw the TC Saves energy efficiency program, puts it, "We have to figure out how to permanently finance such efforts and expand them so that everyone in the county can participate."

Please consider attending the energy efficiency summit Thursday (June 14) which you can register for at www.mlui.org/summit.asp. The summit features a keynote speech by efficiency expert Peter Garforth and an opportunity for us to work together as a community to build our prosperity by helping all our citizens save money and creating new jobs in these difficult times.

About the author: Hans Voss is the Michigan Land Use Institute's executive director. The Institute's mission is to inspire citizens, business and government and take action to protect the environment, strengthen the economy, and enhance our quality of life. By email at: hans@mlui.org.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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