Our planet's climate is changing. We are responsible for it. And we have an obligation to act affirmatively.
Every year that I have run, you have told me that addressing global warming was a priority. You know Washtenaw County can't solve the world's climate problem, but we can stop contributing to it -- and we can be a positive force in our community, our state and the nation. For 14 years, I've been translating your values into action.
When I was first elected, we enjoyed supportive leadership at most levels of government. I got to work with Congressman John Dingell on a carbon tax proposal that enjoyed excellent Congressional prospects. Sadly, the issue of saving our planet from what is now nearly inevitable climate change has been rudely politicized. Pew Research Center reports that divides between Democrat and Republicans on climate change issues are intensifying. This means we see fewer policy supports and less funding for positive action.
This in turn means that our obligation to act locally is even greater.
Here's what we've done so far ....
Just as I joined the County board in 2005, we were wrapping up a major investment in our facilities, upgrading our energy management systems and improving building envelopes. In the intervening time, I have led the County's efforts on every major energy efficiency and renewables project, working to keep up the momentum on this quiet but crucial issue.
I helped found the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office, which brought almost $40M in Obama-era funding for energy projects to our region. Those projects included major infrastructure upgrades like solar hot water provision at the County jail (believe me, that place use a lot of hot water!) and at the County Administration Building. We also provided low cost financing to hundreds of county residents to upgrade their homes!
The net effect for County government has been significant.
$380,000 in annual cost savings from reduced electricity, gas and water usage;
a 20% reduction in raw electricity usage through efficiency measures; and
a reduction of 4.1 million pounds of carbon emissions annually!
... And this is what we need to do next.
The County does not yet have a comprehensive plan to achieve net zero energy, but we have the capacity to meet that goal in the next ten years - provided public policy at the state and federal levels support it. Our first step: lay out a climate action plan to wean us off of fossil fuels.
In the very short term, we can reduce the County's energy usage through improved efficiency measures at all of our buildings. We've achieved a 20% reduction in electricity use already, and we can replicate that cost-effectively through performance contracting for new infrastructure upgrades. This is a pretty straightforward action -- one we took 15 years ago with Chevron successfully, and one that it is time to do again.
Right now we're planning for a 3.5 - 5.0 MW solar array that would provide approximately 50% of the County's electrical use. That's a very complex project that must involve our regional utility (DTE) who controls net metering of electricity to the grid. State law currently disallows us from generating energy at one site and piping it to another (i.e. generation for Building A must be a the site Building A sits on ... we can't currently run a wire from, say, Rolling Hills County Park to the county jail). Instead we have to sell the energy we generate to DTE and put it on the grid. The actual energy we use at our buildings would still come from a variety of sources that feed the grid (coal, nuclear, gas, renewables, etc.) but we would be generating about half of that value from solar ourselves. This year we need to negotiate with DTE to allow net metering of a LOT of electricity and then begin laying out the financing plan to develop the project.