A Task Force for Energizing Northern Michigan

According to IEEE Spectrum magazine, the world consumes more than a cubic mile of oil per year; that's one trillion gallons! The U.S. consumes a quarter of that, of which 70 percent is used for transportation. Developing nations are creating significantly higher demand due to their growing industrial and transportation needs. Coal and natural gas will likely emulate the patterns of oil eventually, with growing demand, peak production, and constrained supply giving rise to increased price pressures.

It's also clear that regulations will continue to require the reduction of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. This will warrant more carbon neutral and carbon negative energy solutions. The effect of these factors is high-cost energy, which is important because of the impact energy prices have on all aspects of the economy and on our connectivity to the global market place.

To address these issues and consider potential opportunities related to them, the Northern Michigan Regional Chamber Alliance – comprising the chambers of commerce in Alpena, Benzie County, Cadillac, Charlevoix, Gaylord, Marquette, Petoskey, and Traverse City – is creating a Regional Energy Efficiency Task Force. The task force will consider Northern Michigan's energy needs, but in the context of regional economy-building.

Like the Traverse City Area Chamber's Energy Policy Task Force that published its collaborative report in 2008, the Alliance task force will begin with some baseline assumptions: Among them, that energy costs will continue to rise as supply decreases and demand increases. Future availability of crude oil will impact our transportation sectors and the agriculture and food production system. Greenhouse gas emissions will be a factor in formulation of transportation and energy generation policies.

But the most important assumption is that every dollar saved through conservation, energy efficiency, and local energy creation will enhance our local economies and economic opportunities. We also realize that our consumption patterns impact more than just the region's economic stability, but also its social and environmental stability. It is a "triple-net" sustainability equation.

The 2008 task force included representatives of environmental, educational, business, and government sectors. It developed four guiding principles. It is likely the Alliance task force will consider these as part of its work, as well. The four principles each include significant detail, but in broad brush they address:

– Energy conservation and efficiency – reduction of usage should be first and central to any energy plan.

– Rebalancing energy portfolios – evolving the sources and production of energy.

– Controlling the cost of energy – ensuring a competitively-priced, reliable and sustaining supply of energy.

– Becoming change agents – the chambers, working with local partners, must be change agents in northern Michigan, recognizing that energy generation, transmission, distribution, and conservation are inter-connected to the economic, social and ecological health of local communities.

This work will not be done in a vacuum, and will not be done overnight. We look forward to presenting our results later this year with a specific action plan for local businesses, communities, and policy-makers at the state and local levels.

Doug Luciani is president & CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.