Many municipalities are working to become more sustainable, including steps towards cleaner energy. With newly available state and federal funding, there are opportunities to jumpstart decarbonization initiatives and projects for the betterment of their communities. By making changes now, communities will reap financial and tangible environmental benefits now and long into the future.
The City of Holland has been leading sustainability efforts in our mitten state aimed at benefiting residents first. The City has intentionally involved community members and local nonprofit organizations to create unique residential energy efficiency and electrification programs that can serve as a model for many communities across Michigan.
Discovering and sharing what municipalities like Holland are doing (and how they are replicable) is important for inspiring other communities about what they can do. This example provides benefits to the long-term sustainability goals of the Holland community, while dually offering an immediate financial incentive for those participating.
The Holland Board of Public Works (BPW) launched a residential beneficial electrification program in late 2022 that includes rebates for a variety of electric tools, heat pump water heaters, electric panel upgrades, and more.
The Environmental and Energy Study Institute defines beneficial electrification as “ is a term for replacing direct fossil fuel use (e.g., propane, heating oil, gasoline) with electricity in a way that reduces overall emissions and energy costs.”
Holland’s Residential Beneficial Electrification Program
First, let’s talk about some of the quality of life benefits of switching to electric powered tools and equipment. The Holland BPW lists some of the advantages of these electric alternatives include:
- Cleaner air
- No unpleasant smells
- Less noise
- High performance
- Easy to start
- Less maintenance
- Cheaper to run
An additional component that is special about this program: rebates. BPW customers receive a $50 rebate when they buy an electric snow blower or lawn mower or a $25 rebate on an electric string trimmer or leaf blower. Additionally, when customers recycle their previous gas-powered tools, they can earn a rebate up to $100.
How the Program Came to Be
Holland’s Sustainability Manager Dan Broersma explained that the city and the Board of Public Works have had a long-standing relationship. This relationship has allowed the community to successfully launch a variety of sustainability programs, and also a nonprofit called the Holland Energy Fund. Broersma and Andrew Reynolds, his counterpart at the BPW, speak on the phone “every day it seems like”. The Residential Beneficial Electrification Program was launched as an offshoot of Holland’s Home Energy Retrofit Program.
When the city created their Community Energy Plan in 2010, their goal was to help Holland become a national leader “in energy security, affordability, sustainability, and efficiency”. They created the plan and then revise and update it every three to five years. They formulate their plan with the help of their community’s businesses (including the BPW), nonprofit organizations, and residents. The plan also mandated certain sustainability standards that needed to be followed.
“The Home Energy Retrofit Program has been around for the last five years,” Broersma said. “The electrification program came about after the state mandates for local municipalities changed.”
Education and Partnerships
Holland has seen great success with their programs which are supplemented with education and events. Forging partnerships with contractors and nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity have been essential.
“We wanted to figure out how to strengthen the programs and how can we build them so they are better for our residents [. . .] The program is all about partnerships.” Broersma said.
The partnerships extend beyond what the city and the BPW have formed. Broersma said that the community’s trust is key to the success of their efforts. They have found that hosting events for residents and local entities has helped bring in even more of the community.
“We want to reach the community; we realize that not everybody trusts the government, not everyone trusts the municipality. […] They trust their neighbors, and neighborhood organizations (i.e., non-profits). And those are the people we want to attract to be educators in the energy reduction program.”
Advice for Other Communities
For communities wanting to create an electrification rebate program, something similar, or just begin to take the steps to becoming more sustainable, Broersma has the same advice for every community, no matter where you are at in the process. It all comes back to relationships and partnerships. He advises communities to reach out to their utility companies as well as local non-profits who are already working with your community.
Find out what their goals are and figure out who your outreach person is,” he said. “Figure out how you can leverage and work together for your community.”
Holland also reached ‘gold’ status in the Michigan Green Communities Challenge, an annual sustainability benchmarking program administered by the Michigan Municipal League on behalf of a group of partners at the state and local level. The program is free to participate and open to all communities in Michigan. This program acts as a roadmap for communities to incorporate meaningful environmental sustainability practices into their policies, programs, and procedures. Learn more at www.migreencommunities.com.
Community Wealth Building Perspective
Holland’s strides in sustainability are a great example of how focusing on improving residents’ quality of life and approaching a problem from multiple angles builds community wealth and resilience. Communities with households that are more financially and physically resilient are more resilient as a whole. In addition, their emphasis on education of their community also ties into lifelong learning – a key pillar in the Michigan Municipal League’s Community Wealth Building Initiative. The varies ways that Holland is bringing its community together is inspiring and showcases something that every community can learn from.