ChooseRenewables Offers Resources

October 31, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — You might say Michael Ford has energy conservation in his blood. His great-grandfather, 92-year-old Elmer Lee, was a pioneer of sorts in renewable energy: He purchased a Jacobs Wind Turbine Generator in the early 1950s to provide electricity for his family farm in northwestern Montana.

Energy conservation has always been part of the family mindset, said Ford, who just introduced a new green business to the marketplace called ChooseRenewables, an online company that offers consumers products and services, as well as free tools to help them reduce their energy consumption, lower their energy costs and reduce greenhouse emissions.

Ford is president of the new company and business unit manager of Cascade Engineering’s Cascade Renewable Energy Solutions division, which designs, develops, manufactures and sells renewable energy systems. ChooseRenewables is a separate legal entity with its own board and is a sister company to Cascade Engineering because it’s owned partially by the same holding company, Ford said. He and his family are investors in the business.

Ford said he has always had a passion for renewable energy, and that Cascade Engineering President and CEO Fred Keller “really connected” with him in that area. They agreed to start a couple of different businesses in renewable energy, one of them ChooseRenewables, and another that’s a wholly-owned business unit of Cascade that’s working on wind turbine developments. For Ford it’s an opportunity to be an “intrapreneur.”

“The concept of ChooseRenewables and the vision for it was something I brought to Fred,” said Ford. “He was willing to try it, knowing it was part of a larger business strategy that includes designing and manufacturing wind turbines that ChooseRenewables could help channel to market,” Ford said.

Ford was motivated by the desire to make renewable energy sources and energy conservation practices more acceptable to the average consumer. What ChooseRenewables is trying to do, he explained, is present a philosophy to consumers that starts with reducing their energy use and results in saving money, some of which they can then leverage to support the generation of renewable energy, either by installing a wind turbine, solar panels or some kind of renewable generator, or by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates.

“Our mission is to not only educate consumers, but to empower them to take action by connecting them with realistic, easy-to-implement solutions that can dramatically reduce and diversify their energy use,” Ford said. “The idea is just to get people excited and aware of easy things they can do to support energy conservation and renewable energy and, thereby, reduce their impact on the environment.”

ChooseRenewables gives consumers three free measurement tools that they can apply on their own to reduce household energy use. It also offers 14 energy conservation products and Renewable Energy Certificates for sale.

MyEnergy Analyst is a tool that allows consumers to calculate the impact of their annual energy consumption. It uses U.S. Department of Energy pooling statistics and data to measure emissions of carbon, mercury, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and total cost of energy to determine the home’s “energy impact” in comparison to same-sized homes in their area. With another tool, MyEnergy Makeover, consumers can design and implement a plan to reduce energy use through either conservation or by generating renewable energy or with carbon offsets. A carbon offset is an emission reduction credit that results in less carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Lastly, the MyWatts Renewables Estimator allows consumers to key in their home or business address and check out their on-site wind and solar power potential. This tool uses data by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to estimate average wind speed and solar radiation. MyWatts gives consumers an estimated payback period for wind turbine or solar installation based on the wind and solar incentives available to them, and also identifies the average wind speed or solar radiation in their region, available state and federal incentives and current electricity costs in their location.

The Web site went live a few weeks ago, and the initial public response was “outstanding,” Ford said. He believes there are a lot consumers who are interested in renewable energy and conserving but don’t know how to get started, and that meets their need.

“The tools on the Web site are tools that no one else in the world, that I’m aware of, has — particularly for free.”

Ford said the company will add more products to the lineup in the months ahead. He said the vision is to eventually add new energy conserving products designed and manufactured by Cascade Engineering.

“There is so much economic growth in renewable energy,” Ford observed. “That’s what gets Fred (Keller) excited, and that’s what gets me excited about reinventing not only our business but also the Michigan economy with new renewable energy resources and new technology that can really be at the forefront of a booming industry.”

Ford said he envisions that five years from now, ChooseRenewables will be the leading source of “content and commerce” — both information and online business — in the renewable energy area. 

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