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U.P. communities team up through EGLE grant to identify municipal, residential energy savings

Cover of the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region guidebookCommunity Energy Management grants are designed to assist local governments, public schools and other entities with energy management and energy efficiency projects.This year, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) awarded 12 grants through its Energy Services unit and a new round of funding will be announced soon.

One recipient was the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region (WUPPDR), which worked with three communities to identify energy savings for municipal facilities and residents: Village of L'Anse in Baraga County, the Village of Ontonagon in Ontonagon County and Grant Township in Keweenaw County.

"We created community energy management plans in all three communities that identify opportunities to reduce their total energy consumption and develop an action plan to take necessary measures to invest in energy efficiency," said Angela Yu, an assistant regional planner with WUPPDR. "We wanted to offer technical assistance for energy efficiency planning and outreach strategies in rural Michigan communities, particularly in the Western U.P. where energy — primarily electricity — rates are very high."

Other partners in the initiative were New Power Tour, Inc., AmeriCorps, Efficiency United and the Upper Peninsula Commission for Area Progress (UPCAP).

"For communities with limited staff and resources, sometimes the hard part of energy management is knowing where to start, what to work on now and what to plan for in the future when it comes to energy on a community-wide scale," said Julie Staveland, acting manager in EGLE's Sustainability Section. "That's where our grant program comes in. We provide funding for communities to update or create an energy management plan that can help identify opportunities to reduce energy consumption and with energy efficiency upgrades can result in lower utility bills."

Prior to the launch of the energy efficiency assessments, there was no community energy planning in the area, said Brad Barnett, a former senior planner for WUPPDR who worked on the energy project and is now the executive director of the Keweenaw Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"(We) wanted to demonstrate a good model to work with local governments to learn how best to meet their needs to make energy efficiency investments," Barnett said. "We realized that while there were a lot of online resources for community energy planning, none of them considered the challenges of rural communities. That's why we created the guidebooks, to help provide some practical guidance for communities with comparably less resources, such as money, expertise and staffing."

WUPPDR modeled its initiative after a project piloted by the Houghton Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) in Houghton County. HEET was established in Fall 2014 and helped community members achieve a 13 percent reduction in residential electric consumption and a 16 percent reduction in residential natural gas consumption.

To reach its goals, WUPPDR and its partners tracked energy use in municipal buildings to identify energy efficiency opportunities. They also helped to set up volunteer Community Energy Reduction Teams in each community and recruited participants from the public. The partnership held energy planning community meetings and residents were provided with assistance to participate in energy efficiency programs.

The foundation for energy savings is now in place with measurable results:

  • Twelve income-qualified homes replaced equipment such as a boiler, furnace or water heater with energy efficient heat pump water heaters and mini-split pump heaters.
  • Six homes received rim joist seals to reduce thermal loss during the winter and lower their home heating utility bills.
  • Five American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Level 1 energy assessments and three ASHRAE Level 2 assessments were performed on public facilities and one business.
  • All three communities now have community energy management plans.

The team also developed the two guidebooks — "A Guide to Energy Efficiency Planning for Rural Michigan Communities" and "Creating and Empowering Community Energy Efficiency Teams: A Guidebook for Rural Michigan Communities" — to provide resources to communities looking to initiate their own planning efforts. The guidebooks are posted on EGLE's website.

With community energy management plans in place, L'Anse, Ontonagon and Grant Township are better prepared to pursue funding and grant opportunities for retrofits, which translate to more savings.

“Each of these municipalities has an audit of all of their assets firmly in hand that clearly ranks for them, in order of amount of money to be saved, the smartest place to start investing energy efficiency money so that they enjoy the fastest return on that investment," said Melissa Davis of New Power Tour. "In the majority of cases, future funding and support to make a larger needed upgrade requires this audit as a standard component of eligibility, and now these three communities have that in place."

The Village of L'Anse's experience with energy benchmarking is featured in an "Energy Benchmarking for Municipal Facilities" webinar that was hosted on Energy Efficiency Day in October by Energy Services and the University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute.

To learn more about the U.P. project or energy planning assistance, contact WUPPDR or Angela Yu at or (906) 482-7205 ext. 118.

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