HEET begins drive to Georgetown Prize

HOUGHTON – The Houghton Energy Efficiency Team officially kicked off a two-year semifinal round drive toward the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize Wednesday with a rally at the Houghton County Courthouse. The rally included speeches from HEET leaders, letters from state lawmakers and the announcement of initiatives to help local residents get started immediately on home and business efficiency measures.

“Today is the day the competition begins,” said Richelle Winkler, a Michigan Technological University sociology professor who’s served as the meeting facilitator for HEET’s efforts. “We hope you’ll go home today and start efficiency projects for your home.”

Michigan Tech Ph.D candidate Abhilash Kantamneni, who has spearheaded Houghton County’s effort, applauded the announcement this week of a plan for a new Upper Peninsula natural gas power plant that will limit proposed massive rate hikes, but said the issue of high energy costs is far from solved.

Still, he said, there are plenty of easy fixes any homeowner can use to save electricity. After a few calculations, he said, he arrived at an interesting tradeoff.

“For every incandescent bulb in my apartment I change out for a LED bulb, I can invite one more person to my wedding,” he noted.

Jay Meldrum, executive director of the Keweenaw Research Center and a member of HEET’s new advisory board, said that while his work mostly involves solar panels and geothermal energy, “this is about caulking windows. This is about insulation, and changing light bulbs.”

Today, Efficiency United, a consortium of 18 Michigan energy providers, will be offering discounted LED bulbs, high efficiency shower heads and other energy efficient items, from 1 to 8 p.m. at Tadych’s Econo Foods in Houghton.

Local hardware stores have also joined the effort. Ace Hardware of Calumet, Risto’s Hardware in Hancock and Swift True Value Hardware in Houghton are all offering 10 percent discounts on weatherization products for anyone mentioning HEET.

There were also letters read from numerous dignitaries congratulating HEET on their progress in the Georgetown Prize competition, including Governor Rick Snyder; U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls; state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba; and state Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, who “applauded the efforts of Houghton County to take charge of their own energy bill.”

Melissa Davis, Director of New Power Tour, Inc., which already provides one volunteer winterization project each week to a local homeowner, challenged each local resident to pitch in.

“I’ll be knocking on your door to ask if you can spend three hours, three times over the next two years to help with someone else’s winterizations.”

Beyond winterization, she said, families should look for other ways to create efficiency, such as replacing old appliances. She said Efficiency United offers rebates on new appliances, sometimes more than half the price.

Rev. Bucky Beach of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, said churches need to be leaders in learning to live with creation, rather than looking at religion as antithetical to science and efforts toward better use of resources.

Houghton County commissioner Scott Ala said it was important to note that HEET was a community initiative, although it did have the commission’s support.

“The HEET program is about the community rallying around us to make it work,” he said. “We’ve got a good chance. We’re Yoopers, used to digging in and digging out. At the end of the day, I think we’re going to get a check.”

Kantamneni noted that HEET’s efforts could set an example for rural communities throughout the country.

“Houghton County is by far the poorest, most rural, smallest community in the competition,” he said. “We’re the classic underdog. Lets take up the challenge.”