Report eyes Michigan’s sustainability future


Alison Waske Sutter, second from right, speaks at a press conference presented by A Renewable America. Courtesy A Renewable America

Michigan is now third in the Midwest for clean energy jobs, according to a report from Clean Jobs Midwest.

Representatives from the wind and solar energy sector in West Michigan and an official from the city of Grand Rapids met at the Catalyst Partners office Sep. 21 to highlight the findings of the report and to announce plans for renewable energy goals in Grand Rapids.

A Renewable America, a nonprofit advocacy group for the benefits of renewable energy, presented the announcement.

According to Clean Jobs Midwest, Michigan is home to 92,271 clean energy jobs, 6,500 of which are in Kent County. Between 2015 and 2016, the clean energy job sector grew 5.3 percent, almost three times faster than the 1.93 percent overall job growth in the state.

The survey was based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and a comprehensive survey of thousands of businesses across the region.

Allison Waske Sutter, sustainability manager for the city of Grand Rapids, laid out the city’s ambitious goals to run Grand Rapids on 100 percent renewable.

“We have a citywide goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2025,” Sutter said. “That means our city has committed to powering our municipal operations with 100 percent renewable energy.”

Sutter spoke on three key initiatives the city will undertake to meet the goal.

The first initiative is the GR2030 District; a public-private sector partnership aimed at reducing energy and water usage, as well as greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent in existing city buildings by 2030.

Currently, GR2030 has over 10 million square feet of real estate space committed to the goal.

Secondly is the Zero Cities Project, a three-year initiative organized by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) and formed by partners Architecture 2030, New Buildings Institute and Resource Media. The goal of the project is to put urban environments, like Grand Rapids, on the path to mitigate carbon emissions.

The Zero Cities Project aims at working with city governments to formulate plans for urban development. The plans focus on constructing buildings that use no more energy than what is produced on-site, or nearby, from renewable energy sources.

The city of Grand Rapids also adopted a third initiative called a property assessed clean energy (PACE) program. The program is a financing mechanism for Grand Rapids businesses, which are implementing renewable energy projects.

Under PACE, property owners will take out a loan for their clean energy projects. The loan is secured by the property and paid back through a special assessment.

The program aims to make it easier for owners to finance energy savings improvements by closing the gap between the upfront cost of a renewable energy project and the long-term payback it promises to provide. The program does not use any city funds. Instead, a PACE administrator will help match lenders with property owners.

“The city of Grand Rapids really is a great example of the investment and jobs that come with renewable energy,” Sutter said.

Brad Pnazek, senior development manager for Tradewind Energy Inc., cited the numbers for the presence of wind energy jobs in the state of Michigan.

“Michigan is home to 92,000 clean energy jobs, of which nearly 5,000 of those jobs are wind energy generation,” he said.

Albert Jongewaard, public affairs manager with Apex Clean Energy, gave an update on Apex’s 400-megawatt project in Isabella County.

Isabella Wind will be designed across portions of roughly 40,000 acres, and have up to 200 wind turbines. Jongewaard expects the wind farm to generate about $30 million in tax revenue for the county and townships and approximately $100 million in landowner payments. At peak construction, the project will generate about 350 jobs and is expected to support about 20 permanent jobs once it’s complete. Apex expects the wind farm to go online in 2020.

“The message is the same. We’re creating jobs. We’re providing opportunities for rural Michigan,” Jongewaard said, “and at the end of the day, the power that we generate is going to help service the goals of businesses in Grand Rapids or other parts of the state of Michigan.”

Ken Zebarah, Harvest Energy Solutions’ territory manager for Michigan and Indiana, spoke about the work his company has done to install solar energy plants in rural communities across the Midwest.

“We’ve seen firsthand an exponential growth in jobs in that industry,” he said. “What we’ve grown and created has, in turn, created a lot of engineering jobs, construction, labor; a lot of behind the scenes jobs.”

Zebarah also said the solar power industry added about 5,600 jobs in Michigan, both direct and indirect, and he expects the number to increase as solar technologies become more refined.

“The demand is increasing for a number of reasons, and a big reason is technological improvements,” he said. “That’s creating a higher demand, and that higher demand is creating more jobs.”

A report by the Solar Energy Industries Association said, in the last year, Michigan jumped from 38th to 11th in the U.S. for solar industry jobs.

According to Clean Jobs Midwest, jobs in renewable energy make up 14.4 percent of all clean energy technology jobs in the state of Michigan. Other sectors include energy efficiency, advanced transportation and advanced grid.

Energy efficiency makes up the largest share, 54.5 percent, of the clean energy workforce, which includes jobs in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), advanced building materials and efficient lighting industries.

Advanced transportation makes up 31 percent of clean energy jobs in Michigan, which involves the production of electric and hybrid vehicles. Only 0.1 percent of clean energy jobs in the state are in the advanced grid sector.

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