Environment Picture

100% renewable cities

New campaign brings fight for action on climate to local level
George Heartwell spoke in Traverse City
In a day of events in Traverse City focused on climate change, former Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell encouraged community members to act locally and shared his vision of how setting a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2025 is changing life for the better in Grand Rapids.

“To achieve great things, you must set bold goals,” Heartwell said. Grand Rapids was the first city in Michigan to set such a goal in 2008, and there are now at least 19 cities around the U.S. with 100% renewable energy goals.

In October, MEC and partner groups invited Heartwell to Traverse City for events that elevated action for more renewable energy in the region. The organizers included MEC member groups Citizens Climate Lobby, Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, and the Michigan Climate Action Network (for more about MICAN, see Michigan Climate Action Network helps communities take action against climate change).

Traverse City eyes 100% goal

Traverse City’s Mayor, Jim Carruthers, and Tim Arends, President of Traverse City Light & Power (TCLP), the local electric utility, co-hosted a lunch with City Commissioners, TCLP board members, staff, and other community leaders. George Heartwell shared Grand Rapids clean energy actions, including the city’s goal to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2025.

That evening, Heartwell spoke to a crowd of nearly 200 about his experience leading Grand Rapids to be one of the most sustainable cities in the U.S., and his work advocating for cities at the international climate talks in Lima and again in Paris. Heartwell’s talk both called on the community to take bold action and shared how it can be done, with detailed information about steps taken in Grand Rapids.

He was then joined on stage by Traverse City Mayor Carruthers, Skip Pruss of 5 Lakes Energy, and Rachel Johnson with Cherryland Electric Cooperative for an informative panel discussion moderated by MEC’s Kate Madigan.

Madigan and other event organizers agree that Heartwell’s visit kick-started a more robust conversation in Traverse City about becoming sustainability and clean energy leaders. In fact, as he introduced Heartwell that evening, Traverse City’s mayor said that the City is now looking at setting its own 100% renewable energy goal. (See Bell Ringers for a news update on Traverse City’s energy plans.)

Clean energy economy attracts businesses

The transition to 100% renewables is rapidly becoming a mainstream concept as solar and wind costs have dropped significantly and with recent breakthroughs in energy storage technologies. Many studies now show how entire states can achieve 100% renewables, and that doing so would bring many benefits. Stanford University research found that generating all of Michigan’s power with clean energy sources would create nearly 150,000 jobs, save more than 1,700 lives per year and save the average resident close to $11,000 annually.

Setting 100% renewables goals also helps cities attract the growing number of businesses looking for the price stability and innovation that comes with a clean energy economy. There are more than 70 major businesses with 100% renewables goals, including Michigan-based Herman Miller and General Motors, which announced in September its plans to achieve 100% renewable electricity for all of its facilities worldwide by mid-century.

These goals may once have seemed futuristic. But leaders with vision like George Heartwell are showing how communities can experience real health and economic benefits today.
-Kate Madigan
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