How Southeast Michigan Can Lead Obama’s Clean Energy Economy

In June 2013, President Obama announced his national Climate Action Plan, which calls on America to lead international efforts to combat a changing climate. In his December 2012 Energy and Environment Address, Governor Snyder spoke about the importance of “energy reliability” and why it’s important that our state has the ability to produce its own energy. What do these calls to action mean for southeast Michigan communities? When it comes to energy efficiency, President Obama emphasized two ways in which metro Detroit is helping set the curve: lead by investment and lead by example.

Leading by Investment

When President Obama says “a low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come,” he is making the case for strategic investments that serve both the environment and businesses’ bottom line, and contribute to a burgeoning industry.

To see how a low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth, just look to southeast Michigan: Regional Energy Office communities have successfully sought and been awarded $8 million in funding for investments in clean energy, creating over 3,000 jobs in energy auditing, weatherization and energy efficient home improvements, and engaging over 5,000 homeowners in making those investments to their properties. Cumulatively, those homeowners will save thousands of dollars on their energy bills, money that can be reinvested in the local economy.

The private sector clearly recognizes the opportunity in green investments. In his speech, the President applauded more than 500 companies across the U.S. for jointly issuing a Climate Declaration, which identifies action on climate change as “one of the great economic opportunities of the 21st century.” These businesses include Fortune 500 companies such as GM and Nike, as well as small businesses in Michigan such as Blue Chip Technologies Group (Brighton, MI), Green Advantage Consultants (Chelsea, MI), Sustainable Research Group (Grand Rapids, MMI) and Wolcott House Bed & Breakfast (Fenton, MI). To feed the emerging market for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, Regional Energy Office partner Michigan Saves is building a robust contractor network and developing expertise and capacity for energy efficiency work in Michigan. The aim is to reduce barriers to doing this kind of work so that cities, residents and businesses are more likely to invest in the clean energy economy.

Leading by Example

In the President’s call for the U.S. to reduce its energy use, curb greenhouse gas emissions and create clean energy jobs, he focused on self-examination—a willingness to call on the Federal government to set an example and earn its reputation as a global leader. The President has pledged to reduce Federal energy use 20 percent by the year 2020. He also recognized over 1,000 communities from across the U.S., including 30 cities in Michigan, who have signed on to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, pledging that their communities will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Here in southeast Michigan, many local governments have taken the initiative to set their own energy efficiency reduction targets. Nine Regional Energy Office communities have passed the Millennial Mayors Congress Energy Protocol, which commits them to reducing municipal energy use from nonrenewable sources by 25 percent by the year 2015, and to educating residents and businesses on options for utilizing renewable energy. Several metro Detroit cities are also proactively working to curb greenhouse gas emissions at the community level—based on resident input and with help from the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, Hazel Park, Southgate and Ypsilanti have created Climate Action Plans, and the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative (DCAC) is in the process of creating a climate action plan for the City of Detroit.

Putting policy into action, in the last three years, fifteen Regional Energy Office communities conducted municipal building upgrades and street light conversions to energy efficiency technologies such as LEDs, as well as residential home improvements. These actions will cut municipal carbon emissions in metro Detroit by over 56,000 metric tons. That’s the equivalent of planting 1.5 million trees and letting them grow for 10 years.

In the same way that the U.S. has the opportunity to set an example for countries around the globe, southeast Michigan has and will continue to demonstrate how intergovernmental collaboration can support energy efficient policies and practices that are good for the planet and also for the pocketbook. By continuing and building on this work, southeast Michigan can inspire metropolitan regions across the nation.