By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
LINCOLN PARK – With opportunities to cut costs and improve services, the city council approved a memo of understanding Oct. 2 to work with partners to develop a prioritized energy management plan for the city.
City Manager Matt Coppler recommended that in addition to the city planning future infrastructure capital needs and updating its master plan, it needs to look at energy management to cut costs, create energy sustainability, provide energy resiliency during disasters and prioritize the community’s energy needs.
Coppler said that as the city upgrades its infrastructure it is a good time to look for energy usage reductions to save on operational costs.
He said the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office recently received a grant from the Mott Foundation to help communities in Michigan begin planning for energy management.
Rick Bunch, SMREO executive director, said because cities often have tight budgets, low staffing levels and lack staff expertise, they are often under-invested in clean energy projects and miss opportunities, reacting with a project-by-project focus, fixing problems as they emerge instead of addressing needs with an overall strategy.
Bunch said SEMREO can help communities that don’t have the capacity or expertise to identify, finance and implement clean energy projects, with 27 metropolitan Detroit municipalities already engaged and $3 million in raised through grants for municipal energy projects.
He said the focus is on helping cities with their municipal operations as opposed to citywide needs.
Bunch said as cities pursue similar projects, they can share learning, create a peer group and inspire each other.
EcoWorks Detroit is a non-profit with SEMRO.
The memo of understanding states that EcoWorks and SEMRO will create a prioritized energy management plan, review the city’s past energy and sustainability efforts and participate in at least two meetings with community liaisons and leaders.
Coppler, as liaison, would provide SEMREO and EcoWorks with access to 12 months of utility bills for municipal buildings. He would also supply the city’s existing energy and sustainability plans and data on past bench-marking efforts.
The city would also agree to make a good faith effort to launch an energy efficiency or renewable energy project totaling a minimum of $5,000 before the end of the project period.
Councilman Thomas Murphy mentioned a past partnership with Honeywell that was supposed to create energy cost savings but cost the city more than $1 million in expenditures, and he expressed concern that the $5,000 minimum project requirement might be a prelude to more expenses.
Bunch said the $5,000 commitment is a nominal commitment that would not come through SEMREO or EcoWorks.
“It would be an investment in your own energy projects,” Bunch said. “For instance, I know from Mr. Coppler that the city is already planning to spend way in excess of that to convert city lights, so that would qualify.”
Bunch said SEMREO wants to ensure that the funding entity has a genuine interest in pursuing energy management projects.
“We hope that the plan will be compelling enough and inspiring enough that you decide to move forward with energy investments that can save you money over time.”
Bunch said SEMREO’s observation is that cities are reactive to “fixing broken things.”
“In working with the state energy office over the last several years we have developed a set of energy best management practices that help cities have a more rigorous and strategic approach to letting you know when a vendor you are talking with is actually consistent with the plan you have got.”
Coppler said it is important for the city to have a plan in place and take advantage of emerging technologies related to energy and to make sure that the city builds in resiliency for all of its infrastructure.
“This actually gives us the ability to make really good decisions because we have spent the time to actually plan how we are going to implement strategy going forward,” Coppler said.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)