Leelanau News and Events

Leelanau Energy, County Board Of Commissioners Join Forces For 'Energy Futures Task Force'

By Craig Manning | Nov. 3, 2023

It’s the start of a brand-new chapter for renewable energy efforts in Leelanau County.

At least that’s the hope of Joe DeFors, Leelanau Energy board president. That grassroots citizens group has been advocating for renewable energy and energy efficiency investments throughout Leelanau County since 2008, when it formed as the Northport Energy Group. Fifteen years later, Leelanau Energy might have just scored its biggest win yet: a partnership with the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners to create the first-ever Leelanau County Energy Futures Task Force.

The newly-formed 14-member task force has a mission “to identify opportunities and facilitate implementation of energy efficiency and renewable energy in Leelanau County.” Following their first meeting last month, the task force has broken into three workgroups to pursue areas of sustainable energy implementation. One group is focusing on opportunities for energy efficiency improvements, another is investigating clean transportation, and the third is looking to identify renewable project opportunities in the county.

According to DeFors, Leelanau Energy has “approached the county at least a couple times over the last few years about the idea of creating a permanent energy-focused committee for the county.” On the first few attempts, the idea didn’t get a lot of traction. This time, though, the stars aligned and the Energy Futures Task Force was born.

“I spoke with Joe several months ago about [energy] ideas for our county building and our county as a whole, because I knew that Leelanau Energy has been working on renewable energy for years,” says Gwenne Allgaier, Leelanau’s District 6 commissioner; Allgaier will serve as co-chair of the task force, along with DeFors. That conversation eventually wound around to grant opportunities, and Allgaier and DeFors realized how much mutual benefit there could be to forming an alliance.

“I know there are dollars available right now for renewable energy, and I also know that it helps, for some grants, for an organization like Leelanau Energy to have a connection to a government entity to open doors to some of that money,” Allgaier continues. “So, I spoke to Joe and he was eager to get something going connected to the county.”

Allgaier and DeFors both note that the task force is the first step of what they hope will grow into something bigger. In county government terms, Allgaier explains, a “task force” is “essentially a study group that can bring ideas to the Board of Commissioners.” It is also, by definition, ephemeral: Commissioners have agreed to let the task force do its work for a year, before revisiting the matter to decide next steps.

“I was a little disappointed, initially,” DeFors says of the Energy Futures group being designated as a task force rather than as a full-on county committee. “But then I came to understand that a formal committee is a permanent entity, and that means it permanently draws upon the human and dollar resources of the county. What the commissioners did by approving the task force instead was to say, ‘You have 12 months to convince us that that there's a need and that there's some pertinence to the work that you want to do, before we give you an endless commitment of our resources. I think that’s the responsible thing to do.”

DeFors also sees the one-year ticking clock as a challenge: Thanks in part to the time limit, he’s motivated to get down to business and make progress quickly. He’ll have the help of Allgaier and Kama Ross, another Leelanau County commissioner, as well as “a wide range of citizens from, geographically, all areas around the county.” Other members of the task force include people from township government, representatives from both Consumers Energy and Cherryland Electric, the environmental services coordinator for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, business owners and agribusiness operators, and interested residents.

When asked what goals he has in mind, DeFors defers, noting that “the members of the task force will choose which projects are worthy of our time and energies” once the workgroups have had some time to research ideas.

One thing DeFors is sure of, though, is that the task force will be aiming for different goals than Leelanau Energy itself. Last year, Leelanau Energy helped fund renewable energy and energy efficiency projects out in the community with the Energize Leelanau Challenge, which distributed more than $30,000 in grant funds to local businesses, nonprofits, and even individual homeowners. DeFors expects the work of the task force, whatever priorities it undertakes, will be more about “looking inward” and finding sustainability opportunities at the public/government level.

“One thing we know is that most of our efforts are going to need to lead with community education,” DeFors tells the Leelanau Ticker. “People rarely make commitments in [renewable or energy efficiency] directions unless they unless they have an understanding and a comfort level with where we're hoping to take the community. And with that in mind, one the things we need to be looking at is how the county itself, in its own operations and activities, can be a role model for the citizens. For example, are there ways that we can help build out clean public transportation in the county? Are there new efficiencies we can find with the actual operations at the government center to save our taxpayers some money through the application of clean energy technologies? If we can look inward and find some opportunities to set an example at the government level, then maybe our residents will take some of those ideas back to their own businesses and households, and then we’ll have made an even bigger impact.”


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