Two weeks ago, I found myself in the public meeting space at the Grand Traverse County Governmental Center where I’d spent countless evenings trying to convince Traverse City commissioners and Traverse City Light & Power (TCLP) board members to embrace renewable energy. But this time I was sitting in one of their chairs.
Around me were representatives from Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA), Keen Technical Solutions, SEEDS, Michigan Environmental Council, Citizens Climate Lobby, the Grand Traverse Watershed Alliance, as well as the city, the county and TCLP — all told, a powerhouse of energy efficiency and renewable energy leaders. Together we make up the new “green team”. Our group will meet quarterly to help Traverse City fulfill its resolution in December 2016 that committed the city to wean itself off fossil fuels for its municipal electric use. The target date for Traverse City to go 100 percent renewable is 2020.
That’s an ambitious undertaking, and puts Traverse City on an elite list of approximately 25 cities nationwide that aspire to make their electricity carbon free. But the goal is also achievable. All resources spent on energy efficiency will eventually pay off, and save the city money. That’s because each dollar invested in solar or wind will create a source of local electric generation, grow local energy jobs, and help stop your electric bill payments from flowing out of the region and the state. Diversifying our local electricity profile and energy economy is crucial in this age when investments in coal and natural gas grow more volatile.
The Groundwork Center was invited to participate in the “green team” because of our work over the past decade pushing smart, local energy solutions as well as our more recent Groundwork Shines campaign. Shines is a community program that brings the benefits of solar to home- and business owners in northwest Michigan. In Traverse City and throughout surrounding counties, Shines is helping put solar arrays up on homes, farms, city businesses, government properties, large fields, and manufacturing facilities while employing locals and saving residents money. We hope to impart our lessons learned to the city on the path toward 100 percent renewable energy.
This Thursday, March 2, the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC), which has advocated for decades for solar and clean energy, will host a Clean Energy Now forum at 6:30 p.m. at the Traverse Area District Library. The event will feature local energy luminaries Skip Pruss and Kate Madigan. Pruss, a local energy guru and energy advisor to former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, will discuss the threat of climate change and the need to move immediately off fossil fuels and towards solutions such as energy efficiency, demand-response, wind and solar. Following Pruss, Kate Madigan of the Michigan Environmental Council will present on the Traverse City 100 percent initiative and discuss her work helping communities across the state propose and pass similar resolutions.
You often know when an idea is going mainstream when former “advocates” pushing niche solutions from the outside are embraced as part of a collaborative process, and brought in as experts in their field. After a decades-long community discussion — which has been difficult and at times has pitted neighbor against neighbor — our goal of clean, local energy in Traverse City is within reach. Please join us this Thursday, and in the months ahead, to push the city, the county, and our entire community to think through how to grow, and benefit from, a clean, lean, local energy economy.
Dan Worth is the Clean Energy Policy Specialist at the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org