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Getting our share

Robert Downes - July 21st, 2008
“May you live in exciting times.“
-- ancient Chinese curse

These certainly are exciting times in every sense. On one hand, we have war and ruin blaring in the headlines and newscasts each day. Alarms are going off over the mortgage crisis, the inflation crisis, the Madonna/A-Rod crisis...
But turn the page and you‘ll also find that titanic forces are in play to transform the earth for the better with a ‘green‘ energy movement that will benefit billions of people -- including those who get the jump on building the infrastructure of the new world.
That‘s the news we should be excited about. There‘s a sustainable-energy revolution about to explode in the coming decade and we‘ve got a front-row seat.
Consider a few articles in the July 21 issue of Newsweek:
• Billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens says it‘s “madness“ for us to spend $700 billion on foreign oil each year. He proposes that we harness the constant winds of Texas, Oklahoma and the Great Plains to generate electricity. That way, we could run our cars on natural gas, which is presently being squandered as fuel at electrical power plants.
His plan will also provide a cleaner alternative to coal power plants.
Pickens isn‘t just talking: he‘s building a $10 billion wind farm in the Texas panhandle. Someone is going to have to build the tens of thousands of windmills that will soon dot the Earth. Who will it be?
• There‘s also an electric car revolution in the works.
Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal, has used his profits to launch an electric car company. He expects to produce 20,000 electric cars by 2010. The cars will run 200 miles on a charge.
Musk claims that in 30 years, most of the cars sold in the U.S. will run on electric motors, with gasoline engines being a thing of the past.
Who will build them?
He also claims that you‘ll have a 10-by-15 foot solar panel on your home which will generate enough power to run your car from 200-400 miles per week.
Who will build those panels?
Meanwhile, GM is working on the new Chevy Volt electric car. Owners will be able to drive 40 miles on a standard charge, at speeds up to 100 mph. Chrysler has its own electric car on the drawing board.
Again, someone is going to build those new vehicles. But who?
• Can‘t afford to fly? The good news is that train travel is getting back on track as an affordable alternative.
Plans are underway to revitalize Amtrak and other rail lines for commuters and to ship goods to market.
And no wonder, because the Association of American Railroads reports that a diesel train is capable of moving a ton of weight 436 miles on a single gallon of fuel.
Imagine your car being able to travel more than 400 miles on a gallon of gas... That‘s the beauty of reviving train travel.
These are just a few ideas plucked from a weekly magazine. The challenge for Northern Michigan is how do we get our piece of the action?
How do we tempt the manufacturers of solar panels, electric car parts, train technology, windmills and a thousand other elements of the green energy revolution to locate in Northern Michigan?
Well, for starters, let‘s go with what we‘ve got: a very nice place to live.
A few years back, Gov. Granholm launched the Cool Cities initiative to try to buck-up Michigan cities with new arts & culture scenes, improving downtowns and waterfronts in the hope of tempting techno-savvy hipsters and their companies to our state.
Back then, I pointed out in this column that Northern Michigan is a pretty doggone cool place already and we don‘t need any help from the State to make it more so.
We‘ve got nothing less than one of the finest locales in all of North America for scenic beauty, and one of the best places to live.
But we need to share that news if we want to get our piece of the green energy revolution. We need strong incentives to bring representatives of the new technology here for a visit. The alternative energy fair held each June in Manistee is a good start.
Perhaps what we need now is some sort of national green energy convention, with discounted airfares or a free shuttle bus from Detroit and Chicago to all who wish to attend.
We also need to encourage our own local innovators. Why not a major homegrown alternative energy company? What can we do to encourage local entrepreneurs?
Northern Michigan has all the charms needed to sell itself as a great place for sustainable energy companies to locate. But they need an invitation. They need to know we‘re here.


 
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