Blog: Jason Bing


Jason Bing manages Recycle Ann Arbor’s Environmental House, one of eight State of Michigan Energy Demonstration Centers. His work includes the promotion and facilitation of healthy, energy efficient home and workplace construction in Southeast Michigan.

Jason holds a graduate degree in architecture, has several years of experience working in a sustainable design firm, is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accredited professional, and is a certified ResNET HERS (Home Energy Rating System) rater.

As a member of the Ann Arbor Energy Commission, Jason continues to participate in the planning and development of Ann Arbor's community energy initiatives in response to the Mayor’s 2006 Green Energy Challenge.


This blog originally appeared in Concentrate.
Jason Bing - Most Recent Posts:

Jason Bing - Post 3: Washtenaw County's "Deep Green" Talent

As Recycle Ann Arbor’s Environmental House manager, I provide green building outreach and educational services (primarily funded by Recycle Ann Arbor’s other service programs) to folks in our community. This can vary from a one-on-one consultation with a homeowner or business owner to a tour of the Environmental House for third graders (grade school teachers - I don’t know how you do it). Offering something of value to each of these constituents requires continuous research, organization, and enthusiasm.

It is hard to keep up, but the way I’ve continued to learn and develop a knowledge base to share with others is through the incredible network of professionals, community officials, educators and students that are dedicated to greening this community. It’s truly amazing. They have provided expertise, guidance, direction, and LOTS of assistance.

I’m (thankfully) involved in many projects with our dedicated greenies, but I want to mention three projects that really demonstrate what a unique community this is - and offer opportunities for you to get involved.

THE ANN ARBOR ENERGY COMMISSION

Have you ever flipped through your TV stations and seen some random meeting taking place on Tuesday evenings on CTN? Welcome to the Ann Arbor Energy Commission! Engineers, architects, organizers, educators, utility representatives, consultants, IT gurus and the Mayor are working towards a more secure energy future in Ann Arbor. I know it’s no American Idol, but I think the other commissioners might be interested in voting me off unless I stop writing blogs and start doing my share of the work before meetings.

But I digress…this commission is actually doing some very important work - in particular, developing a comprehensive energy plan for the City - identifying strategies for reducing energy consumption and utilizing renewable energy in the transportation and commercial/residential building sectors. The plan will identify community goals and provide tools and solutions for members in the community.

Did I mention all of these folks are doing this in their spare time for free?

Come down to the meeting at City Hall and share your thoughts in the “public comments” section. If you can’t attend, tune in and visit us next month. Same time, same place! (Still no Simon, Paula or Randy).

THE URBANWOOD PROJECT

What typically happens to those dead and dying trees that are cut down from backyards, parks, and streets? How about trees removed for easements and development? Most are chipped, used for firewood, or landfilled. Using this "waste" wood as an alternative energy source can be a reasonable way to reduce our dependence on fossil-fuel. But some of these trees are HUGE. And any tree with a trunk or log eight feet long and approximately 18 inches in diameter can be used to create value-added products, reducing our need for trees cut from managed forests. In fact, an entire network of local sawmills now exists that is dedicated to capturing the highest and best use for our neighborhood trees.

This project, now gaining regional and national attention has been made possible through the US Forest Service, the Michigan DNR, and the Southeast Michigan Resource Conservation and Development Council.

But it has been the tireless efforts of the folks in this community  - local sawyers, natural resource specialists, and ReUse Center managers - that has made this project a reality.

THINK LOCAL FIRST

Washtenaw County boasts one of the only Energy Commissions (or groups of appointed officials dedicated to energy) in the country, the first dedicated green remodeling conference (that I’m aware of), and a network of local entrepreneurs dedicated to producing green building products right in our community - the first of its kind.

If you are considering going green, you don’t have to look very far. Come to an Energy Commission meeting, attend the Remodel Green Conference, or check out the urbanwood in the ReUse Center.

And always think local first. 

Jason Bing - Post 2: Very Different Messengers: One Message

Last week while I was dreaming up energy-related blog topics for this post, I received another forward from a friend with excerpts from Lee Iacocca's new book, Where Have All the Leaders Gone? The first excerpt basically sums up all the rest:

"Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, 'Stay the course.'"

Go Lee! I am seriously outraged. Are you?

If you are, you should be aware of two other Americans who share your rage: T. Boone Pickens and former Vice President Al Gore. Talk about a unique moment in history. Is this officially the first time that a Texas oilman and a Nobel Peace Prize winner have shared a common viewpoint on our nation's energy situation? I'll take a shot in the dark and say "Yeah." These strange bedfellows agree on one very distinct fact: America is in the midst of an energy crisis never seen before and decisive action is required within the NEXT TEN YEARS.

So much so that they have both recently presented plans for eliminating US dependence on foreign oil in order to protect our long-term security. Both men are sincere and passionate, while advocating a bold plan for our country, and we REALLY need to pay attention to what they are proposing.

The interesting thing to note is the crossover in substance. Pickens' plan is purely an economic initiative and Gore's is a sustainability initiative (economy, ecology, community). While I favor the sustainability initiative, the plans show some considerable overlap, which is REALLY exciting. I mean, James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is backing the Pickens Plan (Inhofe is the wacko who claimed climate change is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people")

THE PICKENS PLAN

"The United States is the Saudi Arabia of Wind Power"

This is directly from the Pickens Plan and a major reason why I am listening to what this man has to say.

In the Plan, he calls for a massive investment in wind power - replacing 20% of our current electrical needs with wind energy in the corridor from the Texas panhandle to North Dakota. This percentage would offset our current natural gas-powered electrical production, freeing up the natural gas to power our transportation needs.

He believes the Plan would require 1 trillion dollars of investment in wind energy, with an additional 200 million or so in added transmission capacity. This is no small amount of money - but if 700 million dollars A YEAR is leaving the country to pay for foreign oil - I think we could make the numbers work (and don't get me started on the cost of this "war").

Using natural gas as a transportation fuel alternative would mean a 25-30% reduction in greenhouse gases, which I personally don't think is enough. But if the Pickens Plan prevents the construction of additional "clean coal" and nuclear power plants, I would have to believe it may be a bridge to a cleaner, sustainable energy future.

GORE'S CHALLENGE

What could have been…?

I'm not sure what a "man crush" is, but I think I have one when it comes to Al Gore. I'm renovating my house (green!) and I'll pop An Inconvenient Truth into the DVD player and crank the volume as I work to just hear his message while I'm working in another room.

Gore's Plan, which was presented in the last week or so, is everything we need. Gore calls for a massive investment in solar, wind, and geothermal energy with an even greater investment in energy efficiency. Within ten years, he believes it is possible to be generating 100% of our electricity with clean, renewable energy.

And I believe this man!

With a clean, electrical infrastructure in place, plug-in hybrids and battery powered electric cars become a transportation solution - free from foreign oil.

Gore consistently references John F. Kennedy's challenge to put a man on the moon within ten years. I believe the ingenuity and capacity exists in this country to meet this challenge. Furthermore, in a world currently driven by finite fossil-fuel based resources - solar, wind, and other clean technologies are going to be the key to global development. Developing nations will desperately need access to renewable technologies in the coming years. The cost and availability of fossil-fuel based resources will be prohibitive.

Should we let the Germans or Danes corner this global market? (Answer: NO). The only way the United States could ever hope to maintain global relevance (let alone "dominance") would be to adopt a plan like Gore's and leapfrog to the forefront of all these clean technologies. If we let other countries blaze this trail, our economy will continue to suffer and things are going to get pretty bad around here…

DEEP THOUGHTS

T. Boone Pickens's Plan offers a scary projection. With current oil production rates and US oil consumption projections; in the next ten years (if nothing changes) the US will send 10 trillion dollars overseas - which will be "the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind."

Gore offers a different (albeit scary) perspective: scientists with access to data from Navy submarines have warned that there is now a 75 percent chance that within five years the entire North polar ice cap will completely disappear during the summer months. This puts pressure on Greenland and the feedback loops exponentially increase.

The message is clear: we need action now. Take action, vote and be heard.

Jason Bing: Post 1 - A Municipal Energy Bond for A2?

Tax and Save: A Municipal Energy Bond for A2?

About a year ago, I was helping some Ypsilanti activists on a campaign to "Stop the City Income Tax!" City of Ypsilanti officials, in all of their infinite wisdom, decided that residents needed to shoulder an even larger burden in our small "shrinking city" in order to maintain City services.  

I don't need to recount all the details of this poorly conceived "solution." But I wanted to start by making a point: I don't like the idea of increasing taxes on residents in Southeast Michigan to generate revenue for area cities.

That said, I propose a tax on Southeast Michigan residents. And for the sake of this discussion, let's start in Ann Arbor.  

Green From the Ground Up

Before I go much further with my fantasy "energy bond," I want to make another point: This community has a track record for exceptional environmental leadership. There are so many exciting green initiatives being driven by grassroots community organizing in Washtenaw County, they're honestly hard to keep track of. From the Ecology Center, protecting our health and advocating for eliminating toxins from our environment, to Recycle Ann Arbor, serving as a regional and national model for private nonprofit recycling and resource conservation organizations, to Growing Hope in Ypsilanti, helping people improve their lives through gardening - we have an amazing group of organizations serving our community.  

There are way too many to list, but these organizations are guided by their members and constituents, and funded in large part by those same people. In some ways this is how it has to be. In other parts of the state (let's use the Grand Rapids area), green initiatives have been largely driven by corporate leaders (Steelcase, Herman Miller, etc). Their commitment inspired the political will and corporate competitiveness to push a green agenda.  

So how do we really ramp things up, given our grassroots paradigm?

Saving Green by Going Green

What if we could find a way for each household in the City of Ann Arbor to increase the energy efficiency of their home by just five percent? A typical home in this area, which is most likely inefficient (thanks to a lack of a Michigan Energy Code with any substance), pays, with today's energy prices, just over one dollar per square foot in energy costs. Ann Arbor has approximately 20,000 single-family homes and 47,000 total households.  

If each of those homes (with an average of 2,000 sf per home) reduced their energy bills by five percent, we would keep $2,000,000 in the pockets of Ann Arbor homeowners each year.

Now, what if I told you I thought we could realistically reduce energy costs (on average) by 20 percent in every home and household? If we started with the single family homes, we are somewhere near $8-10 million staying in homeowners pockets PER YEAR after energy improvements are made.

Meanwhile, these are based on TODAY’' energy prices. Our household energy costs have more than doubled in the last six years. Do you expect your energy costs to be the same five years from now? And in ten years?

Additional "Cost" of Energy

A (not so small) note to readers: because Michigan relies almost entirely on fossil fuels for its energy generation - and these fuels almost entirely from places outside of this state, we are exporting nearly $20 billion dollars a year out of the state to pay for our energy needs.  

According to testimony from Martin Kushler before the Michigan Public Service Commission in May of last year, our total dollars shipped out of state to pay for energy was closer to $30 billion.

In a state that needs all the money it can get, this HAS to change.

So how do we pay for the energy assessments and energy improvements needed to take action? We could consider financing these improvements ourselves. The reality is that raising funds through a bond could save residents and the community money over the short and long term.

If we build an infrastructure for energy improvements with bonded dollars, we will be well positioned to maximize the impact of any additional help from the federal government. (Let’s be honest - no help is coming from the state).  

In the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Congress and the President allocated funds for municipalities to develop energy efficiency programs across the country. Not a single dollar of this allocation has been approved or distributed to date.

If we were to take action now, we could expand and qualitatively improve any program that we get started when that money actually comes to town (the "when" is a big "if" - does our federal government really have any more money to spend, anyway?)

The Millage

I will save all the gory details of my thoughts on how much money we'd need to raise and how it would be distributed for future posts. But I figured I could get the conversation started and get some feedback from the readers before elaborating.  

Would you be in favor of a bond that would reduce the energy costs and the related impacts of energy consumption of Ann Arbor households (or wherever you might live?)

I think we should "walk the walk" at the local level. There is no time to wait for the federal and state government to catch up.
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