Separate governmental units have a regional task to plan

June 7, 2009
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Imagine. It’s been 15 years since the groundwork of sustainability efforts made headlines in Grand Rapids Business Journal. Five years ago the clusters of “green” growth were undeniable, making a dozen major efforts marked by partnerships one of the top 10 Newsmaker stories of the year. Amway is celebrating its 50th anniversary with Rich DeVos’ story of how a manufacturing empire was built on a formula for what was and is environmentally friendly soap powder.

Even as the office furniture industry packs up its new products for the annual international NeoCon show in Chicago June 15-17, it is important to note that standards set by Herman Miller became the measuring devices for the LEED standards of the U.S. Green Building Council.

It has taken that long for the much slower wheels of government to turn in the direction of the private sector, and speed in that process is encouraged, especially as local governmental units become involved in what is surely their constituent legacy.

Last week the state Wind Energy Resource Zone Board issued its first — and what is likely to be its least controversial — study identifying four regions with the highest potential for commercial wind energy development (see the story on page 1). Perhaps not surprisingly, the 11-member board is led by a West Michigan resident, Zeeland Board of Public Works General Manager Dave Walters.

Region One includes Allegan County and the townships of Casco, Clyde, Fillmore, Ganges, Laketown, Lee and Manilus. Each local unit of government has until Aug. 4 to submit comments, and public hearings will follow later in the month. Each local governmental unit retains zoning rights and authority to review and authorize wind farms within their boundaries. It is another example of how joint planning and a regional vision would assist in eliminating redundancies and cost, but, more importantly, would provide the best opportunity for a population base spread beyond any individual border. The importance of that work among these governmental units has rarely been of greater significance.

Some part of the concern is in the planning that comes later — that of Michigan’s utility companies as they maneuver to establish transmission systems from where the wind blows to current population centers. But it should be noted that population shifts may also result as new alternative power source areas are identified. Even minor shifts would impact industry moves, government tax base, school districts and infrastructure.

This is not an issue of whether a single wind farm is located on property X; it is a matter of Michigan’s future and continued development. Even greater impact can be determined when overlaid with Michigan’s Green Jobs Report released in May. One of the facts revealed in that report showed that “green jobs” in dozens of sectors from agriculture to clean transportation and alternative energy grew by more than 7 percent at the same time that Michigan’s overall private sector employment declined by 5.4 percent. The same report (available through the Michigan Department of Labor, Energy and Economic Growth) shows that the related green employment sectors are a breeding ground for entrepreneurial businesses.

Given the history of West Michigan leadership already on the fast track toward economic diversification … Imagine.

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