|Charlie Weaver (Photo: Jim Dulzo)|
Charlie Weaver, who was once a special education teacher and now guides anglers down the Manistee and Au Sable rivers in northwest Lower Michigan, is pursuing a new career.
This resident of the Manistee River Valley in Kalkaska County’s Bear Lake Township is campaigning for a seat on the Great Lakes Energy Board of Directors.
That’s miles away from his true passions—canoeing and fly-casting—but Weaver’s come to understand that the way utilities make their energy profoundly affects the natural world. It’s a world he’s grown to love over a lifetime of fishing, bird watching, Field and Stream subscriptions, and Trout Unlimited, Audubon Society, Sierra Club, and National Wildlife Federation memberships.
When Great Lakes Energy switched from at-large to district-based voting for its board, several friends urged him to run.
As they say, he took the bait. Friends helped collect signatures to get him on the ballot, and he’s now an official candidate for District 5, which includes most of his county, a tiny corner of Grand Traverse County, and a bit of southern Manistee, Wexford, and Missaukee counties, as well.
“I’ve become rather interested in climate change,” he explained. “Sometimes I’m pessimistic about it, but, frankly, I like to raise hell, and I enjoy the people I’m raising hell with.”
Last week, Weaver—who showed up at last spring’s Snyder energy forum in Traverse City to add his positive comments about renewables and efficiency to the mix—stopped by MLUI’s office for an interview about his campaign.
Michigan Land Use Institute: Why did you decide to do something like this at this stage in your life?
Charlie Weaver: Well, I hadn’t thought about it much before but, over time, I’ve become more and more angry about Country Lines’ [GLE’s bi-monthly members magazine] propaganda pieces and their editorial stance.
It seems to me the co-op is pushing for the status quo, as opposed to pushing for alternative forms of energy. The all-of-the-above, keeping-the-costs-down-no-matter-what approach—it seems that’s paramount. But that’s a shortsighted, short-term vision that excludes the economics of climate change, which I see as horrendous.
MLUI: Do you have any background in how co-ops or utilities work?
Weaver: I don’t know if I have a realistic view, but I learn quick. That is where I would like to have some direction and leadership from [currrent board member] Ric Evans and others who environmentally lean toward clean energy.
MLUI: What would you like to see happen if you got on the board?
Weaver: The direction I would take would be attempting to get Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative [which generates all of GLE’s electricity] to go for more solar and wind generation.
The other big part is energy efficiency. Right now we are being penalized for it. When they set a flat rate for service and reduce your rate per kWh, if you are a small user, you end up paying more and are penalized for using less. It doesn’t reward steps toward energy efficiency.
MLUI: Do you see a rationale for that change in the way GLE charges for power?
Weaver: Here is what I can’t understand: GLE acts like a company that is trying to make a profit, as opposed to a co-op, whose direction comes from its members.
But I’m not at all convinced that renewable energy is more expensive. I wish I knew more business economics, although I expect to learn a lot on the board. You need investment, you need some capital, the way our system works, and you have to convince investors this will have a pay off down the road.
A lot of this is about whether there should be subsidies for it, or not. But there are a lot of subsidies for coal, oil, and gas through various avenues. There have been some for solar and wind, but some of those have been stopped.
MLUI: Do you have other thoughts on which renewables to develop?
Weaver: I think solar power should be included. It’s perhaps more expensive in the short run. But if I’ve read it right, we might think of Michigan as a pretty cloudy place, but there’s still enough sun to make it a viable resource. Not like the Mojave Desert, but it’s definitely there.
What I personally like are the offshore wind farms like in Denmark or [the ones] they are building off Cape Cod. I got off the highway near a wind farm in Ithaca to experience what a wind farm is like. I couldn’t get close enough to one to really experience it, and I do respect the fact that some people say they are bothered by wind farm noise.
MLUI: What are your thoughts on co-ops in general?
Weaver: It’s all about power to the people. I do my banking with credit unions, and have for a long time. I like it because it’s the members who are sharing the benefits, as opposed to a select group of stockholders or investors.
If it is set up that way, then the organization should be more responsible to its members. I think of [the Traverse City member-owned grocery store] Oryana. A co-op is more easily able to establish business policies that are different from the mainstream.
In the case of the electric co-ops, you can then choose to be more environmentally conscious. And use those kinds of values to make decisions about your products.
I think GLE could do a lot more. I would guess they are doing some of it, as opposed to none of it. With my perspective, I don’t think they are doing it enough. I could be wrong; maybe that is what the members want; cheaper power now, to hell with environmental consequences.
MLUI: Any other thoughts about changing how your co-op gets and uses power?
Weaver: A lot of this is about educating the public.
I would include Wolverine in any changes. I’m not sure what is statistically significant, but I would like to see significant changes in how they make power.
I would like to see significant changes over time—the reduction of coal, oil, and gas energy and greater solar and wind energy.
What’s cool about solar and wind is that you can build it up incrementally, without that high cost of building a big, initial plant that, when it starts out, is too big. With solar and wind, you can add it as you need it.
And I’m glad GLE now has a solar community project. When I delivered my petitions, I saw the demonstration solar project. I would like to see more of that, anything we can do.
You know, a lot of my work in special education—I never quit being a teacher—a lot of it was creating innovative programs that were not there before. We just got into it when they started mainstreaming the kids…it was a big change but it worked much better. I learned that when you are trying to innovate, it is important to create models on a small scale, fine tune them, show people it can work. That is something I strongly believe in.
Co-ops very much have an opportunity to be a model about how we do this right.
Jim Dulzo is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s senior energy policy specialist. Reach him at [email protected].