Utilities put in unique spot of asking the customer to buy less


    Consumers Energy’s Terry Mierzwa says that “the small business market is typically difficult to reach with energy-efficiency programs because those folks are working so hard, focused on just running their businesses.”

    So CE and the other public utilities in Michigan are going on the road to reach the business community with information and incentives that will hopefully lead to less use of electricity and natural gas. That’s a concept a lot of business people wouldn’t understand in the first place: Ask the customer to buy less? But it’s true.

    “The law mandates that utilities run programs for their customers to hit certain incremental energy savings goals each year,” said Mierzwa, referring to Michigan Public Act 295 of 2008.

    Known as the Clean, Renewable, and Efficient Energy Act, it states that the utilities are required to meet an additional 5.5 percent of Michigan’s annual electricity demands through energy efficiency by 2015, according to the announcement from Gov. Jennifer Granholm when she signed the new law in October.

    CE is offering at least three incentive programs to decrease its sales. One provides rebates of part of the extra cost of energy-efficient equipment. Another program is for larger customers, especially industrial plants; CE will do an on-site energy audit and propose a customized rebate program for purchase of new equipment.

    Mierzwa said there is also a program specifically for some small businesses, in which CE may “buy down as much as 80 percent” of the cost of energy-saving lights and equipment.

    Last week CE hosted a Trade Ally Fair at the downtown campus of GVSU to introduce some of the local companies that will help businesses take advantage of the energy-saving incentives. One of the allies is Kendall Electric of 832 Scribner Ave. NW.

    “Right now, because we have these aggressive goals to reduce energy consumption, they’re putting incentives out there to speed up the adoption of energy-efficient technology. So it’s generating a lot of activity for our business right now — as the supplier of most of those products,” said John Harman, sales manager at Kendall.

    Harman also noted “many new companies are taking root,” such as consulting firms, to take advantage of the changes taking place.

    “This is quite complicated,” he said. “You have tax incentives; you have rebates from the government; you have the potential effect of cap-and-trade legislation and carbon offset credits; you have the general desire by the public to become green.”

    The “energy optimization” programs that all Michigan utilities are required to offer will add to energy bills. CE, which plans to invest $508 million over the next six years to help customers lower their energy bills, says on its Web site that its typical monthly energy optimization surcharge for residential customers will be about 70 cents for electricity and about $1.75 for natural gas. No word on what the surcharges will be for businesses. But businesses can find detailed information on the Consumers Energy Web site for ways to reduce energy use.

    Familiar face returns home

    Rick Kamel of RK Public Relations isn’t shying away from conducting his trade in West Michigan. Kamel is re-establishing his Grand Rapids home “after nine great years in Chicago.” Kamel pledges to be fully operational once again by the end of this month. Kamel has been a long-time fixture in the local media, marketing and PR circles, even while his base was being established in the Windy City for the past decade.

    Black eye for PR

    Public relations is sometimes like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield: It don’t get no respect, rues Grand Valley State University Professor Tim Penning.

    In his blog GRPR (gr-pr.blogspot.com), PR prof Penning reports that, short of a criminal or civil conviction or some type of legal action under state finance campaign laws, the Public Relations Society of America’s national Board of Ethics and Professional Standards has declined further comment about Seyferth & Associates’ involvement in controversial local elections in Acme Township near Traverse City. The Grand Rapids PR company helped with a citizens group that favored development there that included Meijer Inc., then a client, but was not forthcoming about its paid participation. The professional organization doesn’t levy any sanctions anyway, according to the post.

    “We may never know the ‘rest of the story,’ Penning lamented online. “But the public has been left with the impression that PR is a shady practice designed to manipulate them. I fight that perception and defend the profession almost daily. But one single incident like this tends to negate years of arguments in defense of public relations. That’s been my beef all along. This is all the more reason for public relations professionals to practice ethically and openly, to demonstrate that PR is about the honest development of mutual relationships.”

    In another PR development, The Center for Michigan, the nonprofit think-tank sponsored by former newspaper publisher Phil Power, in its e-newsletter last week noted there are now five times the number of public relations professionals as there are journalists in the state. We here at the Business Journal wish the volunteer “citizen journalists” of The Rapidian Web site, housed at the Community Media Center and funded through the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, good luck with that.

    More growth for RCM

    RCM Technologies, a business and technology solutions provider with a strong West Michigan presence, recently acquired Project Solutions Group Inc. based in Marlborough, Mass. PSG is a specialty provider of project portfolio management and training services company.

    The acquisition will bring in clients such as Toys R Us, Continental Airlines, Microsoft, Revlon, University of Wisconsin and more.

    RCM Vice President Keith Brophy was thrilled with the purchase.

    “We are particularly excited about this because the acquisition opens up an opportunity to expand our Microsoft-focused services and solutions to even a larger customer base,” Brophy said.

    “As you can image, this is great news for RCM Technologies and the potential of increased revenue in the Grand Rapids market.”

    Follow your Bliss

    Walking zombies, mass pillow fights, water balloons hurled through the air, chalk dust on downtown sidewalks — and now a new twist on outdoor music called Electronic Music Night.

    Grand Rapids Community College student Rob Bliss, the mastermind behind all the above-mentioned downtown GR events, said more than 2,200 individuals — so far — have committed on his Facebook site to attend the free event, scheduled for Aug. 1 from 7 p.m.-midnight at Rosa Parks Circle.

    Any electronic music/techno-loving person is welcome to attend, where they will be “treated to an evening of non-stop local DJs and lighting displays.”

    “I see this event as boosting the economy of downtown Grand Rapids for a night, and with the continuation of the events, improving the downtown area in the long run,” Bliss said. “With the success of this event, it will be possible to create an even larger, more festival-oriented event next year.

    “We have the ability to make downtown a more exciting, forward-thinking place to be, where anything is possible in our town.”

    Bageling on Facebook

    Using Facebook and other social media to spread the marketing word has been taken up by an increasing number of West Michigan businesses. One example is The Bagel Beanery at 5316 Clyde Park Ave. SW in Wyoming.

    “It’s hard to increase revenue when big chain restaurants offer such deals on coffee, specialty beverages and food items. We’ll do all we can just to stay competitive,” said Deb Belasco, owner. “The big chains can offer deep discounts because they have the customer base to make it happen. We have a small following, but not a large enough one to make our prices as low.”

    Bagel Beanery began marketing efforts on its Facebook site soon after the hype of such sites started to pick up. Its group page now offers deals on bagels and coffee. Just go to www.facebook.com and search Bagel Beanery Fan Club.

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