Clean Energy Initiative dinner brings local leaders together to discuss project, solar viability

MARQUETTE — Marquette’s long winters and cold temperatures may make many people wonder if solar power is a viable and sustainable clean energy option in Marquette County.

Through the Clean Energy Initiative — a collaboration amongst the Community Foundation of Marquette County, the Superior Watershed Partnership and Michigan Energy Options — local leaders are working to provide education and information about the use of solar power through three high-profile demonstration sites in the county.

The sites and initiative were explored in a video produced by Bennett Media that premiered at the Clean Energy Initiative dinner hosted by the Community Foundation of Marquette County Wednesday night.

“Getting the community more involved and more educated about energy is what we were looking to do,” Emily Leach of the Superior Watershed Partnership said in the video. “If you think about the winter months and the sun reflecting off the snow; you actually get a lot more solar intake than you expect.”

The event aimed to bring local officials together so they could start a community-wide conversation around clean energy, learn more about the initiative from a panel of speakers and engage in active discussions about how to bring more clean energy into the community.

Community Foundation of Marquette County CEO Gail Anthony told attendees: “We want your ideas.”

The Clean Energy Initiative, which aims to determine the viability of solar power in Marquette County while educating the public, was made possible with grant funding awarded to the community foundation by the C.S. Mott Foundation, organizers said.

“This clean energy grant gave us the opportunity to partner with SWP and Michigan Energy Options to showcase options for clean energy, steady long-term outcomes, and start community planning for clean energy use into the future,” said Maura Davenport of the Clean Energy Board.

The $60,000 grant awarded to the community foundation is being used to do a pilot project at two income-qualified households — a couple in Ishpeming and a man in south Marquette — as well as the building housing Range Bank and the Community Foundation of Marquette County along McClellan Avenue in Marquette.

“It’s kind of a common misconception that the U.P. does not have solar resources or resources for clean energy; that’s not the case,” Michael Larson, U.P. operations manager at Michigan Energy Options said in the video, noting a recent study supported the idea that solar power is a viable option in the U.P.

With the variety of solar energy sources and sites used in the pilot project, organizers said they hope to learn more about what the best options for solar are in the community and use this knowledge to educate the public about the viability of local clean energy.

“A year from now, we hope to be able to come back to you and say, ‘RangeBank saved this much money. Terry’s bills aren’t $300 a month anymore. And the couple in Ishpeming are better off than they were before,'” Anthony said.

The community foundation became interested in the work after Anthony became involved in regional conversations amongst a “collective of people who had an interest in looking at energy in the Upper Peninsula,” said Community Foundations for Clean Energy Program Consultant Patrice Martin.

The project aligned well with the community foundation’s goals, Anthony said, because “we not only make grants and give scholarships and connect donors with recipients, but we also address issues in the community.”

The SWP came on board because of the SWP’s own programming related to energy efficiency in the community that it used to help identify the pilot sites for the projects and conduct home energy assessments, Leach said.

Michigan Energy Options became involved because, like SWP and the community foundation, the nonprofit felt it was “the right thing to do for the community,” Larson said.

Rich Vanderveen of Tradewinds Energy also spoke at the event, commending the collaborative project for its focus on the “triple bottom line: planet, prosperity and people.”

Michael Prusi, director of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Northern Michigan office, also spoke at the event, thanking the group for their “forward-looking efforts” in the clean energy arena.

“I think the fact that here at the local level, we’ve got a group of committed, concerned people who are ready to take the P3 process that Rich just talked about and bring it to fruition speaks highly of this community,” Prusi said. “And that’s why I’ve always been proud to be part of the Marquette County community.”

After the speakers and video, each table convened to discuss what they could do to bring more clean energy to their homes and businesses, what resources might be needed, and what can be done as a community, then reported back to the group as a whole.

Many of the conversations centered on finding ways to increase energy efficiency through weatherization, LED lights and other measures.

A wide range of strategies were discussed by the groups, ranging from implementing more clean energy, energy efficiency and weatherization measures in households, businesses and municipal buildings; to tax credits, grants and further community partnerships amongst stakeholders; to furthering community energy literacy, education and engagement.

One group summed up their strategy as a three-step approach: “Educate, activate and then engage policy that holds us accountable.”

At the close of the event, organizers emphasized it was only the beginning of the community dialogue about clean energy, and that much can happen when people come together and collaborate over an issue.

“The conversation has begun and you are the people that started it,” Anthony said. “If every one of you talks to another 10 people, that multiplies what you’ve learned here tonight and it brings forth the conversation and it carries it forward; and that’s what we really want to do. So as a community foundation, we’ll commit to carry this through.”

For more information on the community foundation or to view the video about the Clean Energy Initiative, visit http://cfofmc.org/

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.

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