During the mid-January thaw, my wife and I took our kids to the Empire Bluffs in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore for an un-winterlike adventure. In past Januarys this would have required snowsuits, snowshoes or skis — tramping through snow-covered woods to emerge looking out over a frozen Lake Michigan. Instead, our excursion felt like a Spring awakening. We left mittens and hats in the car and plodded along a sometimes muddy path before we emerged over an ice-free Great Lake. From our spot 400 feet up, you could actually still see the algae growing on the lake bottom. On the way back to the car we spotted a swarm of very bewildered flies. The snow has since returned here, but only after a couple weeks in January that felt like March.
If you care about climate change, and want our society to transition more quickly toward clean energy, it's easy to fall into a winter depression. Global temperatures are increasing each year, according to NASA; the new president has pledged to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, and the frontrunner of tomorrow's clean energy sector is China, which recently committed to spend $360 billion to invest in clean energy by 2020.
Nevertheless, here in northern Michigan there is reason for optimism on the clean energy front.
We at Groundwork believe in local solutions, even when the federal government lets us down. That’s why we are working with our neighbors, colleagues and friends to slow climate change, adapt to the new normal, and tap into a growing new energy economy that could be the largest job and wealth creator of the 21st century. According to two recent reports, there are now 2.2 million jobs in energy efficiency-related fields and more than 250,000 jobs in the U.S. solar industry alone. Michigan lags behind, with well under 5,000 of those solar jobs.
Traverse City is making steps in the right direction. In December, Groundwork and a coalition of community groups worked with Traverse City’s mayor and city commission to approve a resolution calling for the city to combine energy efficiency and renewables to achieve 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. This resolution also calls for a green team that will begin the community process of deciding what type of energy future lies ahead for the city and its residents. We need to adopt one that is reliable, affordable, and ideally keeps dollars local. As one of Traverse City Light & Power’s largest customers, the city is in a unique position to collaborate with a municipal utility to find innovative, win-win solutions.
Shining on the Solstice
Meanwhile, Groundwork will roll out the second iteration of our successful Groundwork Shines program to help interested northern Michigan citizens go solar. Last year, Groundwork helped more than 150 home and business owners begin the process. Over dozens of coffees, lunches, and home visits, we met many folks, learned a lot, and spread the word about the profitability of improving homes and helping customers generate their own power. On March 21, the Spring Equinox, we will build on our success stories and roll out Groundwork Shines 2.0 — a campaign to make solar easy, affordable and fun.
Then, just after the Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year), Groundwork will partner with Northwest Michigan College, a host of local groups, and the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association to bring the annual Michigan Energy Fair to Traverse City, where it first started in 1991. On June 23-24, we will host a two-day Energy Conference and Fair that will highlight the amazing innovations in energy generation, storage, waste reduction, and mobility happening around the state and here in northern Michigan. The conference will focus on catalyzing real world, local energy solutions that keep the air and water clean, reduce CO2, and generate and save local dollars.
People in our community, across the state, and around the country and world are looking for ways to be happy, safe, independent, thrifty, and resilient. We hope you will join us this year in exploring the role a new local energy economy can play in meeting all those goals.
Dan Worth is the Clean Energy Policy Specialist at the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org