Blog: Jason Bing

Earth Day reminds us that it's a green globe we live in. Meet Jason Bing, manager of Recycle Ann Arbor's Environmental House, a facilitator of healthy, energy- efficient home and workplace construction in Southeast Michigan. He holds a graduate degree in architecture and is a LEED accredited professional. Jason will be writing about local and national energy initiatives, issues and ideas.

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.