Pancakes & Politics panelists Glenn Stevens, executive director at MICHauto, left, Jerry Norcia, president, and CEO, DTE Energy, second from left, Liesl Clark, director at Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, third from right, and Carla Walker Miller, founder and CEO of Walker-Miller Energy Services LLC, far right.
Photo by Monica Morgan
By Rasha Almulaiki and Sherri Kolade
Skyrocketing fuel prices, last summer’s devastating floods in SE Michigan neighborhoods, and the growing impact of climate change, many Detroiter’s are left to wonder, are more accessible clean energy solutions the answer?
Discussions on equity-driven clean energy opportunities to funding prioritizations with ever-increasing clean energy entities were had during Michigan Chronicle’s Pancakes & Politics four-person panel who unpacked how Michigan can be a powerhouse in this realm on Thursday, June 16 at the Detroit Athletic Club during its fourth (and final) installment of the year.
“The Future of the Clean Energy Economy” discussion featured key energy industry leaders who shared the state of Michigan’s clean energy economy and how more inclusivity will transform how we live, work, and play.
Hiram Jackson, CEO of Real Times Media (RTM) and publisher of the Michigan Chronicle kicked off the event by thanking the panelists, sponsors, and attendees for engaging in rich conversations on relevant topics today like clean energy.
“We do it here for a reason,” Jackson said of the Detroit Athletic Club adding that he wants people who have resources to create change in their networks. “We think it’s really important for us to have these kinds of conversations with you in the room and share with people who view our content on our platform.”
The panel, led by host, President, and CEO of Ignition Media Group Dennis Archer Jr., including Glenn Stevens, executive director at MICHauto, Jerry Norcia, president and CEO, DTE Energy, Liesl Clark, director at Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and Carla Walker Miller, founder, and CEO of Walker-Miller Energy Services LLC, one of the largest Black and women-owned energy efficiency firms in the United States.
Archer addressed local renewable energy-related issues from a regionally competitive investment standpoint and how to bridge the equity gap of accessibility and information between the professional realm of experts and power brokers to low-income communities.
“Lately, we’ve had a lot of news about companies not coming here,” said Archer, “But going next door to Indiana or down south to Alabama. Access to affordable energy has played a key role among other things. Can you talk about the importance of that as it relates to attracting business to Michigan?”
“I would say that in order to make Michigan competitive,” said panelist Norcia. “We’ve certainly all have to do our own work and we did our part with energy in the sense that we made it very clear that we can compete with anybody in this country when it comes to energy.”
Norcia said DTE Energy provides transparent published reports for consumers and outside developers to take note of this, particularly the exemplar of service negotiations with General Motors that now maintain one of the most competitive rates in the country.
Walker-Miller has an added take on marketability.
“I’m less concerned how competitive Michigan is because we have a brain trust working on that,” said Walker-Miller. “I’m much more concerned that the transformation is inclusive. We’ve had all types of wonderful things happen in Michigan and in Detroit, but there are the haves and the have-nots. There are those that have access to the opportunities and those who don’t.”
Several other panelists including Clark shared their organization’s strategic commitment to developing a more informed consumer base on responsible clean energy use, the automotive transition to electric vehicles (EV), and company investment in local trade schools for prospective energy and utility employees.
Clark said that clean energy is “where we are going” and energy efficiency begins with consumers through small changes in ensuring their homes, companies, and places of worship are not expending energy unnecessarily.
“We have a lot of opportunity to do that work,” she said. “How can we be more creative and adaptive to a low-carbon future?”
It starts with getting budgeted taxpayer dollars back into the hands of the community.
For more information visit michigan.gov/egle.
Stevens said that young people are interested in working for industries and companies that “solve global issues not contribute to them,” adding that the lion’s share of the clean energy workforce is being birthed here.
“(The) greatest concentration of people to work in this industry are the ones growing up here,” he said adding that developing a robust pipeline for clean energy sector jobs is within reach. “We need to cultivate our own and get them to solving issues in net-zero economy. … Great initiatives around state are doing that right now.”
Minority-Owned Energy Businesses Demand Equitable Engagement
Kwabena “Q” Johnson, founder of Plug Zen, a Detroit start-up electric vehicle manufacturer, told the Michigan Chronicle about recognizing the value of minority-owned businesses in this conversation.
“If you’re going to use equity diversity, and inclusion,” said Johnson, “Everyone has to be in on it. If you look at that panel, some of us should have been on that stage. That’s what engagement looks like.”
Johnson said one of the gaps in community needs when it comes to infrastructure planning for EVs is the inconvenience of charging stations that are planned to be spaced at every 50 miles.
“We need to focus on public level 2 charging stations,” said Johnson, “Places where people will convene like community centers and parks. Any place where your car is going to sit for more than two hours. It creates the incentive for business and property owners to get involved.”
A broadcast of this final forum will be available at a later date — stay tuned to MichiganChronicle.com, and for future Pancakes & Politics events.