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A church and a gas station in Detroit reap the benefits of energy efficiency

Marathon Gas Station

Energy efficient lighting

Annette Covington, DIrectress of I am My Brother's Keeper Ministries

I am My Brother's Keeper Ministries

An accordion sounded from the front of the gymnasium at the Pilgrim Church and I Am My Brother's Keeper Ministry on a Thursday evening, live musical accompaniment for one of several free weekly dinners the ministry provides.
 
A red-brick church of gothic spires and stained lancet windows near the intersection of the Woodbridge and Core City neighborhoods, at Trumbull and Brainard streets, the ministry invites area faith-based groups to cook and serve food for the community Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, providing overnight shelter to the homeless on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This past Thursday, a church from Novi brought dinner and music.
Pilgrim Church and I Am My Brother's Keeper MinistryWith no state or federal funding, donations of cash and in-kind foods and services -- like that of the Novi church -- keep I Am My Brother's Keeper running. On such a shoestring budget, any cost savings they find are like small blessings. 
 
When the energy utility DTE saw that the church was slipping behind on its energy bill, it sent a team to evaluate and improve I Am My Brother's Keeper's energy usage habits onsite.
 
"We did an energy audit," says Vicki Campbell, DTE's Director of Energy Efficiency, "and their boiler was in really bad repair." Through an energy optimization incentive program, DTE was able to get the church a refurbished boiler, with new piping.
 
Overhead, above the gymnasium diner, LED lights dot ceiling tiles. Throughout the building -- the chapel and sanctuary, the kitchen, the shelter and dining area -- new DTE-supplied LED and CFL lights are cutting electricity usage for lighting anywhere from 50 to 75 percent over old halogen lighting.
 
All told, the upgrades have trimmed about $1,000 from the church's monthly energy bill, says Campbell.
 
These upgrades, and others like them throughout the city, are the result of Public Act 295 -- the Michigan Clean, Renewable and Efficient Energy Act -- signed into law by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in October of 2008.
 
In addition to about $100 million in funding for incentive and rebate programs, the law implements yearly energy efficiency standards the industry must meet, including a requirement that by 2015, ten percent of all retail electricity sales must come from renewable resources. Further standards apply to Consumers Energy and DTE, the state's largest investor-owned utilities.
 
The hope is that the new standards, in addition to spurring development in clean and renewable energy sources, encourage performance optimizations in commercial and residential energy customers. The optimizations seem to be working, and in Detroit -- with lagging city services and higher-than-average poverty rates -- many commercial-sized customers are not just businesses, but providers of valuable community needs.
 
Across town, at the northeast corner of McNichols and Wyoming, the same LED lights seen in the Pilgrim Church gymnasium blaze through the midnight dusk from the canopy of Nasser Beydoun's Marathon gas station. They illuminate the coolers lining the rear wall of the station's grocery and convenience store and the Subway sandwich shop in back.
Nasser BeydounBeydoun paid about $7,000 out-of-pocket in upgrades for indoor and outdoor lighting and cooler equipment, with DTE kicking in about another $6,000, he says.
 
"We made these changes in April of last year," Beydoun says, "and they paid for themselves within about six months." He says his energy bill dropped by 33 percent, saving him over $1,000 a month. 
 
The lights stay on throughout the night at Beydoun's 24-hour Marathon station, which takes part in the Lighthouse Project, a public-private safety and security project started downtown with representatives from Quicken Loans and affiliated companies, Illitch Holdings, and the Police Department.
 
"We took the Lighthouse Project that Rock (Ventures) and Illitch (Holdings) were doing downtown and moved it out to the neighborhoods," says Beydoun, who serves as a representative of the Arab-American Business Owners on the expanded Lighthouse Project.
 
The goal of the Lighthouse Project is "provide shelter, aid, safety, and information for citizens and visitors of the City of Detroit who are in temporary need of assistance," a mission statement from the group reads. Participating businesses must display a project decal on site and operate -- with adequate lighting, including the programs signature green light -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"People come in at night now, always," says Shaddad Alshadadi, who manages the gas station. "Before (the Lighthouse Program), nobody would come out at night. Now, they know it's a safe place. The police stop by throughout the day, two or three times a night," he says. "People come to shop, come to report something, use the bathroom."
 
Of course, these benefits occur beside the more traditional environmental goals of the law and programs -- cleaner air, greener infrastructure, and lower utility costs.
 
"Over the long run," reads a 2013 report from the state's Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Department, "the cumulative reduction in customer demand for electricity is expected to result in the deferral or reduction in the need to build new electric generation plants." Further, it suggests, utility bill savings would lead to "increased spending within the economy."
 
In 2012, statewide optimization programs resulted in electrical savings of over 1.0 million megawatt hours, according to the report. The state expects $4.07 saved by customers for every dollar spent on optimizing and upgrading energy infrastructure in the long run.
 
"It's crazy, right?" asks DTE's Campbell. "We sell energy -- why would we want people to use less of it?"
 
But, she says, there are obvious, direct benefits to the company besides just complying with the law.
 
"Our customers like it. When we have offerings that they value, they think better of us as an energy company, and we have higher customer satisfaction."
 
And, she notes, savings accrued by customers may spell economic development for communities in Detroit.
 
"We are proponents of economic development," she says. "We want healthy businesses in the state and in our service territory, and these programs have actually resulted in new jobs." Dollars saved may become "a new shift, maybe a new line, maybe a few more hours someone's open," she says. "The economic impact of these programs has been positive for us."

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Danny Fenster is a Detroit-based freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @D_Feez.

All photos by Marvin Shaouni.

This piece was supported in part through a partnership with Michigan Saves and Public Sector Consultants.
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