Although there is not a stop in the Tri-Cities area, West Michigan was represented in a Grand Rapids public forum facilitated by the Michigan Public Service Commission and the Michigan Economic Development Corp., and will likely be represented to a lesser extent at this coming Monday’s forum in Kalamazoo.
At the two local forums, West Michigan Environmental Action Council and a consortium of businesses, utilities, academics, health professionals, community groups and individual citizens will be touting energy efficiency as Michigan’s cleanest, cheapest and most quickly deployed source of new energy. But more than that, we are asking Michigan to reconceive of buildings and energy infrastructure as new sources of energy to be tapped and mined, similar to oil and gas wells and coal mines.
First, it’s important to understand that energy efficiency is distinct from energy conservation. Energy efficiency is about accomplishing the same, or more, with less energy. It’s not about sacrifice.
Snyder got it right when he described energy efficiency as “the best example of a no-regrets policy Michigan can have. It makes us more reliable, more affordable and protects our environment.”
If anything, that understates the opportunity.
According to the Michigan Public Service Commission, the cost of energy efficiency is $20 per megawatt-hour. And the combined costs of renewable energy and energy efficiency is $45.98 per megawatt-hour, “lower than the cost of all new fossil fuel generation plants regardless of technology type.” By comparison, renewable energy came in at $82.5 per megawatt-hour and new coal at $107 per megawatt-hour.
In 2009, McKinsey and Co., a leading global consulting firm, found that the U.S. economy has the potential to reduce annual non-transportation energy consumption 23 percent by 2020, saving $1.2 trillion at the cost of $520 billion (not including program costs). “Doing so would decrease greenhouse-gas emissions by 1.1 gigatons annually — the equivalent of taking the entire U.S. fleet of passenger vehicles and light trucks off the roads.”
Energy efficiency programs are already active in West Michigan. WMEAC manages or co-manages a portfolio of public and private home energy programs that have audited and retrofitted nearly 2,000 homes in the past two years. Many other energy efficiency programs are also available through local nonprofit organizations, utilities and private companies. Local energy auditors and home energy retrofitters are experimenting to find customers, decrease paperwork and lower costs.
Improvements targeted at lower-income households have the added advantage of saving taxpayer and ratepayer dollars by decreasing low-income heating assistance payments. Energy efficiency frees up cash in tight monthly budgets, and makes for more stable families and communities by returning dollars spent on energy to our wallets and the local economy.
It increases housing values and decreases the cost of renting or owning a home. This is also a central part of Holland’s efforts to pilot and innovate community-wide energy efficiency improvements as called for in its Community Energy Plan.
Perhaps most interesting, models are emerging nationally that finance energy retrofits directly on utility bills — paid from the savings of the newly installed efficiency improvements. Municipal-owned utilities such as the Grand Haven Board of Light & Power, like the Holland Board of Power Works, have a unique degree of flexibility to accomplish such initiatives.
— By Nick Occhipinti, the policy and activism director for the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.