Communities throughout Michigan are making clean energy efforts, but it’s important to take a closer look at what’s actually being implemented and what types of solutions would lead to better results.

Michigan Saves recently explored clean energy efforts on both the statewide and community levels in the Michigan Clean Energy Reports.

“This research is intended to paint a picture of where Michigan is with four clean energy technologies,” says Mary Templeton, executive director of Michigan Saves. “That baseline understanding can help communities and advocates figure out where there are opportunities for improvement and provide some ideas for seizing those opportunities.”

Funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the analysis comprises two major works: a statewide overview of energy use and clean energy technology deployment titled “Michigan Clean Energy Report: Statewide Profile of Energy Use and Deployment of Four Clean Energy Technologies,” and “A Profile of Clean Energy Efforts in Seven Michigan Communities,” which profiles clean energy efforts in seven communities.

The community report — which looks at Alpena, Kalamazoo, Holland, Marquette, Pontiac, Saginaw and Ypsilanti — paints a picture of how medium-sized communities of various geographies, levels of capacity and economic positions are moving forward on clean energy efforts, and evaluates the cities’ policies, plans and deployment of four clean energy technologies: energy efficiency, distributed renewable energy, smart grid/microgrid and electric vehicles.

Energy efficiency — By far, most of the communities’ focus (both in policy and deployment) has been on making energy-efficiency improvements; however, these improvements are not just for municipal facilities. Several communities have offered (or actively participate in) community-based programs, such as incentives for residential or business energy audits and efficiency upgrades, which help residents and businesses understand and improve their energy use.

Distributed renewable energy — Even in communities that have shown interest in renewable energy resources, only a small fraction (0.15 percent) of the population in the communities profiled have invested in wind and solar renewable energy projects.

Smart grid/microgrid — None of the communities evaluated have policies regarding, or have completed projects for, municipal or community energy microgrids. Utilities in several communities are making progress in deploying smart meter technology, including installation of advanced metering infrastructure, which could allow customers to make informed choices about energy usage based on the price at the time of use.

Electric vehicles — Michigan ranks seventh nationally for electric vehicle purchases. Demand for electric vehicles is expected to grow, as evidenced by recent sales trends within the state. While the profiled communities have not made significant investments in electric vehicles for municipal fleets, several have supported electric vehicle deployment by investing in charging stations for their businesses and residents.

“People are strapped for time — sorting through a variety of resources is cumbersome,” Templeton says. “The community analysis tackles this by taking a representative view of diverse areas across the state. Our hope is that other communities see themselves in the report and can mirror clean energy progress that makes a difference, no matter where they are in the process.”

The statewide profile is designed to serve as a reference for communities looking for information about the current energy landscape. It also offers easily accessible, accurate information about energy use and the deployment of clean energy technologies.

One of the primary barriers for communities in implementing clean energy technologies is funding, notes Templeton.

“It makes a big, big difference if there is ongoing funding,” she says. “Additionally, we see that communities with a dedicated and consistent staff make more progress. Leadership across the board — from local government to residents — is crucial as well.”

Luke Forrest, Michigan Green Communities program manager at the Michigan Municipal League (MML), hopes communities looking to make clean energy progress use the report as a starting point.

“This report provides readily accessible case studies for communities to refer to,” Forrest says. “Communities that want to tackle one or two initiatives should be able to identify with, and learn from, at least one of the communities in the report and take comfort in knowing that someone did it first.”

Michigan Saves staff utilized the MML’s Green Communities Challenge checklist as a guide for its research — incorporating specific checklist elements into the community interview guide and literature searches — because many of the program’s measures of sustainability achievement are related to clean energy.

“Michigan Saves’ report and Michigan Green Communities initiatives have created a nexus for clean energy issues,” says Forrest. “There is a massive network of people working every day on energy and sustainability issues across the state, and it’s our shared goal to make sure these reports aren’t the end of the story. We’re dedicated to working together in the green community network to make further progress, using the report as a baseline to measure that progress.”