Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Houghton County, HEET celebrate semifinalist status for Georgetown University Energy Prize competition

By Michele Bourdieu

At their Jan. 14, 2015, celebration in the Houghton County Courthouse, Houghton Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) members and visitors pose for photos with a banner announcing Houghton County's semifinalist status in the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition. (Photo by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- The Houghton County Courthouse was the scene of a celebration on Jan. 14, 2015, as members and community supporters of the Houghton Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) formally announced that Houghton County has been included as one of 50 communities competing nationally for the Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP) -- $5 million for the best achievement in energy efficiency.

Since September 2014, HEET has worked on a long-term Energy Plan for Houghton County, which they submitted to GUEP.* Now that the competition has entered the two-year semifinalist stage, from January 2015 to December 2016, the challenge is to implement the plan in order to reduce utility-supplied energy consumption in a manner that is likely to yield continuing improvements within this community and replication in other communities. To determine finalists and winners, GUEP has restricted community energy consumption measurements to energy supplied by gas and electric utilities directly to all residential and municipal customers.**

At the Sept. 17, 2014, Community Visioning Meeting for Saving Energy, held at the Finnish American Heritage Center in Hancock, HEET organizer Abhilash ("Abhi") Kantamneni, a PhD student in Computer Science at Michigan Tech and a researcher in solar energy, points out that electric rates for the Upper Peninsula are among the highest in the U.S. (Photo by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

Richelle Winkler, Michigan Tech University assistant professor of sociology and demography, who has acted as a facilitator for the HEET meetings, welcomed HEET members and visitors to the Jan. 14 celebration and introduced speakers.

Abhilash "Abhi" Kantamneni, a PhD student in Computer Science at Michigan Tech and a researcher in solar energy, has been a lead organizer for the HEET group and their participation in the GUEP competition.

Here Winkler introduces Kantamneni at the Jan. 14 celebration:

Abhilash ("Abhi") Kantamneni, an organizer of the Houghton Energy Efficiency Team, speaks about the Georgetown University Energy Prize during a celebration at the Houghton County Courthouse marking Houghton County's status as one of 50 semifinalist communities in competition for the prize. (Videos by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

Following Abhi's introduction, Jay Meldrum, executive director of Michigan Tech's Keweenaw Research Center and an active member of the HEET group, read a letter of congratulations by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

During the celebration of Houghton County as semifinalist in the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition, Jay Meldrum of the Keweenaw Research Center reads a letter of congratulations from Michigan's Gov. Rick Snyder.

Rick Kasprzak, Houghton County Democratic Party vice chair and a new member of HEET, announced that State Rep. Scott Dianda, while unable to attend the event since he was in legislative session in Lansing, is aware of HEET's work and very supportive of their efforts to empower Houghton County residents to take charge of their own utility bills.

Kasprzak later told Keweenaw Now he is extremely proud of Houghton County as one of the semifinalists in the GUEP competition.

"The competition for the Georgetown Prize will make the residents of Houghton County winners whether or not we are able to win the Prize, as everyone will benefit from learning how to conserve energy while putting money in our pockets," Kasprzak noted. "Although Houghton County is by far the most rural community competing for the Prize, Houghton County is also a community of resourceful and determined people, and I have every confidence when the residents of this county are inspired to take charge of their own utility bills they will rise to the top of the competition."

Other political figures -- Congressman Dan Benishek and State Senator Tom Casperson also sent messages of congratulations that were read to the audience.

The three local utilities, UPPCO, OCREA (electric) and SEMCO (gas) have worked with HEET to identify residential and municipal accounts within Houghton County limits.
The Houghton County Energy Plan provides information about energy data collection to be submitted to GUEP.* During the celebration, David McCowen, representing SEMCO ENERGY Natural Gas Company, spoke about SEMCO's role in helping to implement the Houghton County Energy Plan.

David McCowen, Key Accounts executive with SEMCO ENERGY, who is responsible for all new natural gas services in the SEMCO areas of the U.P., speaks about SEMCO's ongoing efforts to help customers with energy efficiency and SEMCO's support of the Houghton County Energy Plan.

Michigan Interfaith Power and Light has been working to help support HEET efforts. They recently granted funds for five local congregations to do energy audits and efficiency upgrades to their buildings. They are also doing an educational campaign on energy efficiency with members of these congregations this month.

At the HEET celebration, Bucky Beach, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Houghton, spoke about his church's commitment to improving energy efficiency in their building and educating the public about it.

Bucky Beach, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church pastor, addresses the audience during the Jan. 14 Georgetown University Energy Prize announcement in the Houghton County Courthouse. His church is one of several in the community tht are participating in the county's new Energy Plan by working on energy efficiency and educational programs.

Houghton County Commissioner Scott Ala, who has been working closely with the HEET group, gave the closing speech at the celebration in the Courthouse.

In his closing speech at the celebration, Houghton County Commissioner Scott Ala explains the purpose of HEET's Energy Plan for the county and the importance of community participation.

Local residents who have been involved with the HEET group were enthusiastic about the GUEP semifinalist qualification and the new Energy Plan.

"I am excited about the county-wide approach that is required by this project," said Carolyn Peterson of Houghton. "We can always use more practice in working with Copper Country residents who live in different neighborhoods."

HEET member Linda Belote of Hancock also shared her enthusiasm for the endeavor.

"This is very exciting," Belote said. "I think we have a good chance of winning because our community knows how to work together. This is an excellent challenge for us. Even if we aren't the top winners, we will still have gained a lot in the attempt."
Nominations for Energy Plan leadership positions still open

HEET will continue to lead and manage the Houghton County Energy Plan.* As stated in the plan, HEET's more than 60 volunteer members include municipal government officials, committed residents, utility executives, service organization leaders, university staff and students, and local business and school leaders.

On Jan. 6, 2015, a group of HEET members met to discuss the structure of leadership for implementing the County Energy Plan and to make suggestions for nominations to leadership positions.

Richelle Winkler outlined the structure, which will include a Community Advisory Board, an Energy Manager and volunteer coordinators for outreach/marketing, education, service organizations, alternative energy, energy efficiency, government, volunteers and fundraising. The Energy Manager position will be a part-time paid position, possibly to be funded by a $30,000 Joyce Foundation Grant recently awarded to the HEET group.

At the Jan. 6, 2015, meeting of HEET members, facilitator Richelle Winkler outlines the structure for leadership as the team prepares to nominate leaders to implement the new Houghton County Energy Plan.

While some nominations for these leadership positions have been made and accepted, the new HEET Web site offers an opportunity for additional online nominations for these positions.*** HEET invites interested persons to join the team or become involved with their efforts in various ways.

Community events coincide with HEET celebration

As part of the HEET celebration, businesses in Hancock and Houghton participated by promoting energy efficient products, and weatherization of a home in Calumet was sponsored by New Power Tour, Inc.

Efficiency UNITED, a state and utility partnership program that helps people and businesses to become more energy efficient, set up booths at Pat's Foods in Hancock and Econo Foods in Houghton to discuss the multiple rebates and programs they offer to Semco and UPPCO customers. They also sold energy efficient items to customers.****

Efficiency UNITED representatives, from right, Wayne Formolo and Bill Wittenbach of Iron Mountain, talk to Bucky Beach, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church pastor, and Barbara Manninen of Hancock about energy efficient products and rebates at Pat's Foods in Hancock on Jan. 14. They also had a similar booth at Econo Foods in Houghton on Jan. 15 to help create awareness of their company's work. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Bucky Beach, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church pastor, bought eight LED lightbulbs at the booth at Pat's Foods.

"We're trying to go as energy efficient as we can at my church and at home," Beach said.

Some of the energy efficient products being promoted by Efficiency UNITED include these LED light bulbs and night lights and a water saving shower. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Efficiency UNITED is in partnership with SEMCO ENERGY Gas Company and Upper Peninsula Power Company to help customers discover ways to save energy through innovative energy efficiency programs and educational tools such as online energy audits.

In addition, during the month of January, hardware stores in Houghton, Hancock and Calumet are offering a 10 percent discount on "consumable" energy efficiency products (CFL and LED light bulbs, winterization supplies, etc.) through Jan. 31, 2015, for customers who request the HEET (Houghton Energy Efficiency Team) discount.

Another event associated with the HEET celebration was a weatherization of a residence in Calumet last week by New Power Tour, Inc.

During the Jan. 14 HEET celebration, Melissa Davis, managing director of New Power Tour, Inc., and a HEET member, speaks about the need for volunteers to help winterize homes through the New Power Tour program. (Photo by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

New Power Tour works with Construction Engineering students from Michigan Tech University, training high school students while winterizing the homes of low-income and elderly members of the local community. The project makes an economic and thermal difference in the lives of residents, and students learn skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.*****

This ice dam caused damage to the roof and leaking water in the home of Loran and Shirley Kommes. New Power Tour volunteers spent a whole semester winterizing the house to solve the problem. (Photo © and courtesy New Power Tour, Inc. Reprinted with permission.)

To solve the problem student volunteers insulated the attic with blueboard that they tacked down and sealed around the edges with spray foam. (Photo © and courtesy New Power Tour, Inc. Reprinted with permission.)


* Click here to read the new Houghton County Energy Plan.

** Go to to learn more about the Georgetown University Energy Prize.

*** Click here to learn about the HEET leadership nominations and to become involved with the project.

**** Visit the Efficiency UNITED Web site for more information.

***** Click here to learn more about New Power Tour and their winterization program.

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