Turning up the HEET: Team takes final look at high-stakes plan

By DAN ROBLEE

droblee@mininggazette.com

HOUGHTON – Houghton Energy Efficiency Team members gathered Monday at the Lakeshore Center in Houghton to make final comments on the 32-page Houghton County Energy Plan before it’s submitted to Georgetown University Energy Prize judges by Nov. 10. The strength of that plan will determine whether Houghton County makes the semifinals of the Georgetown competition, which offers a $5 million prize to the community that does the most to increase energy efficiency over a two-year period.

According to Richelle Winkler, a Michigan Technological University professor of sociology and demography who’s been facilitating HEET meetings and serving as plan manager, most of the communities Houghton is competing against for the prize are much larger and have far greater resources to devote to the project.

But Houghton County’s broad community involvement in the project gives it a chance to compete.

“People are pretty community minded, interested in working together to get stuff done,” she said. “That always makes it possible to achieve lofty goals.”

The plan may still need a little last-minute tweaking,” she added, but “I feel we’re in a strong position to make a final effort.”

HEET expects to hear whether they’ve moved on to the semifinal round of competition by Dec. 15.

HEET members and interested community members are being given until Friday to make comments on the plan – you can contact the group through their Facebook page or their website, houghtonenergyefficiency.com. The three-member team of Michigan Tech graduate students who have penned the plan as an energy policy class project will make final revisions over the weekend and get it to to the Georgetown judges by Monday.

Edward Louie, who’s working on his Master’s Degree in Environmental and Energy Policy, said writing the plan has been “way more effort than a normal class project requires, but because we see the benefits, it motivates us to put in ungodly hours.”

He definitely sees a need for improvement in home efficiency. Coming from Portland, Oregon, where housing codes are much more strictly enforced, he was “appalled at his first rental,” he said, as well as many of the other homes he sees.

“Energy and heat are just flying out through the roofs, doors and windows,” he said. “There’s got to be a way to get them to modern standards.”

That’s just one thing HEET is working on, he said, by trying to bring Property Assessed Clean Energy Financing to Houghton County.

During the meeting, the group discussed the likelihood of hiring a part-time energy manager to take over leadership of HEET if Houghton County makes the semifinals. Winkler said HEET is well-positioned for a $30,000 grant being reserved for Georgetown competitors, which could pay for the position. The group is also looking at fundraising options.

HEET will also be looking for a sizable cadre of volunteers to coordinate energy-use data collection with county governments and school districts, Winkler said. As part of its efforts, HEET is expected to track energy data for every municipal building in the county.

The group also reviewed the plan’s presentation of its core goals, increased energy efficiency, alternative energy use and education, all of which they hope will lead to an overarching goal of energy equity and affordability for all county residents.

Carol Ekstrom, a HEET member representing the Keweenaw Unitarian Universality Fellowship, which has taken an active role promoting home winterization and alternative energy, said she’s excited about the group’s Georgetown Prize chances.

“I’m optimistic it’s going to go well,” she said. “I feel we’ve addressed (Georgetown’s) major points, and we’ve got the important players involved in the conversation.”