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Tom Karas: A Grand Vision for Wind Power?Print

Thriving Communities | May 19, 2009 | By Tom Karas

It took a communitywide vision to build Benzie County’s successful Betsie Valley Trail; now another group is working on another vision, which would bring community-owned wind power and jobs to Michigan’s smallest county.

I’ve watched The Grand Vision from a distance over the past year or so. My associates at the Michigan Land Use Institute have been all over it like a cheap suit, encouraging very, very wide community participation with an intensity and drive that is just one example of why that organization has stayed in business for 17 years.

I, on the other hand, have been up to my eyeballs in energy work. Roads and buildings and where to put them are important, but were outside of what I focus on. My Grand Vision friends and I have a similar goal-sustainable future development-but we’re taking different roads to get there.

However, those two roads T-boned over the last few weeks: I encountered a “mini-grand vision” that I believe was partially spawned by The Grand Vision.

I’m referring to Benzie Wind Week, which occurred in April and was a phenomenal success. I think that success was due, in part, to folks getting involved in The Grand Vision, an innovative, shared-thinking process that pushed them into new areas of consideration and collaboration.

They already had a thirst for new options and a desire for new information. And so, during Wind Week, I made some amazing new contacts who will remain nameless for now. But know this: We are now a team, and we are implementing a new, mini-visioning process of our own.

It’s a small project, but it has huge potential ramifications. The team includes a wind measurement company, a willing and supportive landowner, and a cast of community members who want to support a new wind project and who will be there for it as the inevitable challenges show up. The final goal, if the measurement and math prove viable, will be a community wind program that would benefit both a part of Benzie County and a public school system.

In fact, it may be the first partnership of its kind in northern Michigan. As with our many bold ideas, getting our project going will be challenging, but it will grease the skids for those that follow.

I have to believe that The Grand Vision process has played a part in giving citizens, like my team in Benzie, the empowerment and encouragement we need to dream. It is giving administrators the community support they need to move in new directions-so evidenced by Traverse City Light and Power’s move to abandon a coal plant in favor of wind turbines and small biomass plants to meet Traverse City’s future power needs.

This vision stuff is obviously contagious. And there may be no cure. It could spread through our communities like a welcome epidemic of new ideas and sustainable concepts. The Grand Vision process kicked it off; now it’s up to citizens to help their leaders run with the ball. And-like the mini-vision in Benzie County-as these little ideas bear big fruit, they may soon grow into a full menu of items that make our region a gourmet’s delight of sustainability, prosperity, and new community opportunity.

So, thanks to all who have participated in any way!

Interlochen resident Tom Karas leads the Michigan Energy Alternatives Project and frequently collaborates with the Michigan Land Use Institute on energy-related issues.