A new NRDC report shows that clean energy makes up a greater share of jobs in the rural areas of Michigan than in any other Midwestern state, with 1 out of every 24 rural jobs in clean energy industries. In total, rural Michigan benefits from about 25,000 clean energy jobs in industries ranging from renewable energy deployment, to energy storage and microgrid technologies, to manufacturing of energy efficiency equipment, and electric vehicles. The state also boasts some exciting case studies that demonstrate the benefits of clean energy development to many rural communities, benefits including jobs, new sources of revenue, and lower electricity bills.
Wind Energy Attracts Investments
Throughout the rural Midwest, wind energy is creating jobs, bringing revenue in the form of property taxes and lease payments, and attracting investments from companies that want to run their facilities with low-cost clean energy. In Michigan, Kent County is poised to benefit from a major tech company investment driven in part by the availability of low-cost wind energy. Switch Communications Group is in the process of building several data centers in the county that will be powered entirely with wind energy. The first data center is open and operating on the company’s campus just outside Grand Rapids. According to Switch’s executive vice president of strategy, “Sustainably running the internet is one of the driving principles of Switch, which is why in our site selection process... we had to find a local utility who could provide a pathway to 100 percent renewable power.” Switch’s $5 billion investment is expected to create 1,000 jobs, almost all of which will be filled by Michiganders. These jobs add to the impact of clean energy, which already directly employs almost 25,000 people in rural Michigan, more than every other state in the Midwest.
Community Solar Programs Reduce Electricity Bills
Solar energy is also bringing benefits to rural communities, primarily through job creation and reduction in electricity bills. In Grawn, Michigan, Cherryland Electric cooperative is providing energy efficiency improvements and subsidized subscriptions to community solar programs to reduce electricity bills for low-income customers. The efficiency improvements, which include upgrades to the sealing on doors and windows to improve insulation and replacement of old lightbulbs with highly efficient LEDs, reduce electricity use of the households. And the community solar programs allow households in the same neighborhood or area to share solar panels, which lower the cost of electricity and reduce bills for the customers. Many low-income households cannot afford the upfront cost of solar panels, so the assistance from the co-op helps these members overcome the initial barriers and reap the rewards of low-cost electricity.
Providing Needed Energy Efficiency Improvements
The USDA’s Rural Development loan program for affordable housing provides financing for projects in rural communities, including energy efficiency improvements in homes. In 2016, the USDA provided loans for energy efficiency in multifamily housing projects in rural Michigan, including many buildings that were nearly 40 years old and in desperate need of repairs. To date, six multifamily housing projects in Michigan have been approved for Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing through the Rural Development program. This funding, which is the first PACE funding to be approached through the Rural Development program, means that the property owners can now afford to install energy efficiency upgrades that will significantly reduce their long-term energy costs, such as light-emitting diode (LED) lighting, more energy-efficient boilers, low-flow water fixtures, and ENERGY STAR®–certified appliances. Continued use of Rural Development financing for energy efficiency will reduce the energy costs for more rural households.
Michigan’s Clean Energy Boom
Michigan continues to top the charts in the Midwest when it comes to clean energy—whether it’s rural clean energy jobs, broader clean energy jobs, or carbon reduction goals. The state has all the pieces in place to be a front runner in the clean energy economy, and with a Governor-elect unafraid to tackle climate, we can expect Michigan to be a real leader.