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Tom Karas: Wowed by Benzie’s Wind WeekPrint

Clean Energy | May 7, 2009 | By Tom Karas

It was standing room only for last month’s Benzie County Wind Week sessions, including this one at the Elberta Lifesaving Station.

A few weeks ago, I blogged a bit about communities that are coming together to create their own green energy futures. Since then, I’m pleased to say, I’ve seen it again in northern Michigan, this time during a communitywide discussion in Benzie County about wind energy.

The concept of “community” fascinates me. It tends to avoid strict definition, but you know it when you feel it. It could be the Traverse City community, or your neighborhood community. It might be a weekly community that shows up at your church, or a seasonal community that plays softball in the summer. It’s all community, and it’s almost always a good thing.

In Benzie County, in late April, fellow clean-energy advocate Steve Smiley and I gave three public presentations meant to inform and spark discussion about wind power. I was prepared to work with a community of  maybe15 folks the first night, but we were amazed when 65 people showed up at the Scenic Hill Motel, in Honor. We really had to scramble to find chairs for everyone, but, in the end, all seem pleased, although everyone was ready to get out into the cool night air by the time we finished.

OK, the first night attracted most everyone who was interested, right? So we figured that the crowds had to get smaller the next two nights, with just a few people dribbling in.

In my dreams! We were wall to wall the second night, too, as 42 people jammed into the basement of the County Resource Building, between Benzonia and Frankfort. Again, a new community bloomed, all threaded together by a common interest in clean energy.

So, I stopped having expectations. Sure enough, the third night wowed us yet again. At the Elberta Lifesaving Station, 63 Benzie residents had us setting up chairs along the wall and out into the hall.

Steve and I were amazed: Three standing-room-only audiences, three nights in a row, in a county of barely 16,000 people! We kind of wanted to think it was the skilled presenters, but we knew better: It was the hot topic of a clean energy solutions that brought folks in.

So now there is a community of wind aficionados in Benzie County who we are working to link together to help the county planning commission pass a smart, progressive wind ordinance. We even have a smaller community of folks who want to form an investment group to look at building community-owned wind power, something that could replace many smaller efforts with fewer larger ones that provide greater efficiencies and returns.

Think of it: Our own efforts and investments not only creating local jobs but also keeping precious energy dollars circulating in our own community, instead of leaving the county for utilities, coal mines, or wind power companies located elsewhere in the country. It’s the best kind of economic development. And it’s part of a tradition that both Benzie and Michigan need more of—conversations and communities that lead to new and better solutions.

Benzie County! I am so impressed with your interest in clean energy opportunities. I will spread the word that there is a vibrant community interested in and willing to bring sustainable energy alternatives to this little county on the big shore.

Please stay tuned. I will keep you updated as these exciting ideas develop. In the meantime, please seek out other great Benzie communities and talk with them about wind. The more discussion that takes place, the more quickly what once seemed like a distant dream can become, almost magically, a reality that helps us all—and our communities.