Blog: Matthew Naud & Jamie Kidwell

Ann Arbor has had an energy office longer than most cities - and also happens to know where each of its 14,000-plus water pipes are located (many cities don't). Matthew Naud and Jamie Kidwell, key players in Ann Arbor's sustainability planning effort, will write about using these advantages and others to forge a new sustainability framework for the city.

Matthew Naud: Sustainability? NOT!

So what's not sustainable?

The city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan spend $250 million and $110 million per year, respectively, on natural gas and electricity. Those dollars don't spin in the community very long because the sources of energy aren't made here – and most are also not renewable, so prices tend to go up.  So we give money away to other states and countries instead of investing in the infrastructure that could create jobs, make it cheaper to live and work here, and reduce our energy insecurity.  

Residents and businesses in Ann Arbor spend close to $140 million (of the $250 million) and we can probably save 10% of that with caulk.  Caulk that is bought at local stores and used by local contractors, who have money in local banks, and the energy savings can be saved or spent at local restaurants and book stores.  Investing in really easy basic energy efficiency improvements could leave $14 million in the local economy each year for the life of the improvements.  This is one of those situations where the market is not working.  

Energy efficiency investments are not recognized in the appraisal of houses when they sell, so banks won't let you build these costs into mortgages (a source of relatively cheap money).  Half of our 40,000 housing units are rental and there are a variety of inefficiencies in the market.   When tenants don't pay utilities, they can use as much as they want.  When tenants do pay utilities, there is less incentive for the landlord to make efficiency investments when all the savings return to the tenant.  As a homeowner, I can get a far cheaper interest rate for buying a new car than I can for insulating my home even though the efficiency investments could immediately put $50-100/month in my pocket to repay the note.

Until recently, it hasn't been clear that there is (or should be) a role for cities to play in this failing market.  Public Act 270 of 2010 changed that.  Thank you Berkeley, Boulder, and Babylon (NY) among others for getting the first programs started.  PACE legislation allows local units of governments to adopt resolutions "that the financing of energy projects is a valid public purpose."  Local governments now have the opportunity (if they want to) to work with local businesses (only if they want to also) to raise funds for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects and be repaid through voluntary property assessments.  This finding allows local governments to recognize the broader public benefits that stem from private energy efficiency investments – cleaner air, local economic development, better building stock, lower costs of living for residents and businesses, reduced pressure on the electric grid.  Oh, and it also is probably one of the most significant strategies we can take to both mitigate and adapt to a changing climate.  Yep, I am a believer in man-made actions changing the climate…and that the earth is round.  But even if you don't, we should be doing as much as we can for the other reasons listed above.

While I have your attention – a few other thoughts on Un-sustainability

It ought to be expensive to bury trash in Michigan land.  We need to get out of the cheap landfill space business in Michigan (and silly efforts to let grass be put in landfills) and instead raise tipping fees to develop robust recycling programs that create more and better jobs and don't waste the resources we have – and actively build some of our economy around using these resources.

It ought to be extremely expensive to do anything that risks Michigan groundwater and the Great Lakes in general.  Fracking – just stop it.  Every time we think we can put some batch of nastiness underground and contain it – it never (ever) works out the way we hope.  Pull up the enviromapper site at and check out the 9,100 leaking underground storage tanks.  There are huge legacy costs associated with non-renewable energy that Michigan residents will pay for in a variety of ways.  I would like to see the jobs and potential energy created from this risky fracking business and then compare it to the jobs and energy saved from efficiency efforts in the state.  We calculate that basic energy savings in our commercial sector alone would save the equivalent of 39 Barton Dams' worth of electricity.

Don't get me started on carp and the Chicago canal…And thanks for listening.