Maintaining Good Intentions

August 1, 2008
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Call it a ray of hope in an otherwise ongoing pessimistic political atmosphere. The Center for Michigan’s status as a “think-and-do tank” has attracted discussions with candidates for many of the 44 state House seats being contested this year.

Annette Guilfoyle, former public information officer for the city of Grand Rapids, is serving as an outreach coordinator for the Ann Arbor-based Center for Michigan. She describes the center’s visitations with some of the House candidates vying for spots in Tuesday’s primary as “a very thought-provoking experience.”

She noted that while all are passionate and energetic, there is a wide range of exactly what provokes their passion. “In 17 candidate conversations, I have had only two candidates who are ‘toeing the party line.’ By this I mean that they refer to the party playbook before giving their responses, so much so that even though they are hundreds of miles apart, their answers were nearly identical.

“My personal reaction to these two candidates was that they represent an old-line thinking that acknowledges that they probably could never be elected without party support and campaign funding.”

She said that while The Center for Michigan folks don’t expect many surprises in Tuesday’s primary, “maybe the biggest surprise of all will come in January. Our state may be pleasantly surprised by a House of Representatives ready to work together to find meaningful solutions to Michigan’s biggest challenges, and do so working in a bipartisan fashion.”

Really?

“OK, so I am a bit of a dreamer — why not dream big?” she acknowledged.

Guilfoyle noted one of the greatest challenges The Center for Michigan faces is “providing daily doses of courage to the folks who are committing to support our bipartisan movement. While I know it is not easy, even unobserved, to tell me that they want to reach across the aisle and that they will buck the party if necessary to accomplish legislation that puts this state back on the right track, it will be nearly impossible to sustain this in Lansing during session. While all of these candidates want to go to Lansing and leave a legacy that goes beyond just showing up for session, they will need our support and our supporters’ support to hang tough.”

Despite the well-intentioned sentiment, what are the odds?

“We need to think about how we can help them — how do we give them Popeye’s can of spinach when they need to have the strength to act first for their constituents,” Guilfoyle maintained. “We need to help them identify who their like-minded colleagues are even if they work across the aisle. We need to have a cadre of voters and business leaders who will send an ‘atta girl/boy’ when they have demonstrated courage and an ‘aw shucks’ when they don’t. I think this means that we will still have a large piece of our work cut out for us after November.”

The center has been pleased to find most of the candidates are running against the status quo in Lansing. “They see the need for change, the need for anything but what happened with the last budget. Many know that the folks that they will represent are hurting economically and they want to do something meaningful to ease that hurt. The ones who admit that they will require a learning curve to understand how the state government and budget works are the ones for whom I am most hopeful. But these are also the ones who may have to turn to advocates for special interest groups for their education. We need to have advocates there to educate if we want our agenda to be part of the lesson.”

**Excitement is in the wind at Cascade Engineering in southeast Grand Rapids — and at Bauer Power in Wayland.

This month Cascade expects to get UL certification on its 1.5 kilowatt roof-mountable Swift Wind Turbine. Then, next month …

The plastics manufacturer already is producing the blades and rotors for all Swifts being made in Europe, and next month, if the creek doesn't rise and the wind doesn't die, Cascade will be assembling the completed Swift turbines at its Grand Rapids plant and shipping them to customers throughout the U.S. and Canada. It’s anticipated Cascade will provide as many as 2,000 of them in the first full year of production.

The Swift turbine is getting a lot of attention. It's a small generator, designed for the individual homeowner or business owner — not one of the tall monsters we occasionally see now, flailing the air, trying to replace the local power plant (and perhaps succeeding one day). One Swift turbine can't produce enough juice to completely run the average American home with all its electrical gadgetry, but it can definitely take a chunk out of the monthly bill from the utility company. And more than one Swift can be installed on a roof.

At an installed price of about $11,000 to $12,000, a Swift turbine is going to get a lot of people thinking independently — especially when they see monthly electrical bills heading ever higher on top of petroleum price increases.

Cascade Engineering has selected Bauer Power to be a Swift dealer and installer. Owner Mark Bauer says his company is the largest installer of renewable energy products in West Michigan.

Bauer is a realist. He isn't one to mince words, and he doesn't seem inclined to lay on a sales pitch too thick. Back in May, he was quoted in the Business Journal as saying that wind turbines for the individual homeowner are "a novelty." He said there are a lot of misconceptions out there related to wind energy.

He's even expressed some reservations about roof-mounted wind turbines, mainly because the best wind for efficient generation is much higher than the typical roof on a home. And some city locations won't work efficiently at all, due to turbulence around buildings. (Bauer's announcement about his new relationship with Cascade Engineering pointedly mentions that the Swift can be mounted on poles away from the building.)

But Cascade Engineering knows, too, that there are limitations to wind generation, and the company isn’t out to sell somebody a wind turbine where it isn't practical. The manufacturer bends over backwards to make sure a potential buyer gets months of test results in advance, indicating whether or not their wind and weather conditions are sufficient.

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