MARK: So, what can you tell me about the Energy Outlet?
DEB: The Energy Outlet is a project of the Clean Energy Coalition. The mission of the CEC is to promote clean energy technologies as a way to create healthier, energy independent communities. So when Sean Reed, our executive director, realized that CEC was outgrowing its little office on the 4th floor of a Pearl Street office building, he took it as an opportunity to find a new space where we could interact more with the public. So, in Ypsilanti, what better place than Depot Town?
Now we are sharing our new Cross Street office space with our brand new retail store, the Energy Outlet, at which we sell products to help people use less energy and more renewable energy in their everyday lives. We also offer services, like home and commercial energy audits, energy advisor appointments, product rentals, and the collective knowledge and experience of our staff of CEC project managers. Finally, we’ve created a class schedule to offer to the public, presented by local green businesses, so that folks can come here not only to learn about energy, but also other ways we can impact our environment in a positive way.
MARK: If you don’t mind my asking, what’s your structure? Is the Energy Outlet a for-profit entity, a non-profit, or some kind of hybrid? When I think retail store, I think for-profit, but then I also seem to recall hearing that the Clean Energy Coalition is a non-profit, with government grants to do local energy audits.
DEB: So, as far as our structure, the Energy Outlet is a project under the non-profit umbrella of the Clean Energy Coalition. Therefore, any profits we make as a result of our sales will go into supporting the continued work of CEC.
MARK: OK, and what kinds of products and services do you sell through the store?
DEB: Our products generally fall into two categories: energy efficiency and renewable energy.
The energy efficiency products include things which will help you save water, like a dual-flush toilet, low-flow faucet aerators, low-flow showerheads (which give quite a lovely shower, when you get the right one!), a toilet tank bank (which acts like the old-fashioned “brick” but doesn’t ruin your toilet seal), and rain barrels. We also have products to help you save on your electric and gas bills, like programmable thermostats, CFL and LED light bulbs, Kill-A-Watts (which help you measure how much energy your appliances are ACTUALLY using). The most effective way to save electric and especially gas are the products which seal and insulate your home, keeping the heat and cool inside and the outside air outside. Those products include a chimney balloon (sealing the fireplace when not in use), low-VOC caulk and foam insulation, a dryer vent closure that keeps the cold air out, and some high-quality door and window sealing products.
Renewable energy products that we carry so far include a solar backpack, which you can use to charge small electronics, including your cell phone, iPod, GPS, camera, video games. The same company also produces a laptop charging bag, which has a bigger capacity solar panel to charge your laptop computer, plus all the other good stuff listed above. We also carry a solar oven (which gets up to 350 degrees), and a solar/hand-crank radio. I’m working with suppliers right now who offer solar hot water heating, solar light tubes and attic vents, solar pool water heating, photo-voltaic panels, and skylights. We’re looking into geothermal and wind energy providers.
We also carry a selection of books provided by Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor. So when you buy a book here, you’re supporting not only the Clean Energy Coalition, but also a local bookseller! Double the local bang for your buck.
The services we provide include home and commercial energy audits, energy “advisory” meetings (1 hour with our auditor, your electric bills, and some homework about your current appliances and habits), on-site solar and wind power studies, and we’ve got classes being taught in our Green Classroom by local green businesses about not only energy, but also other “green” topics like landscaping, recycling, buying local, etc.
MARK: So, what kind of reception have you gotten here in Ypsi? I know we as a community aspire to be green, but I don’t know that many of us have the money right now to make those choices, even if, as in the case of low-flow shower heads and LED bulbs, they’d pay for themselves down the line.
DEB: What kind of reception have we gotten here in Ypsi? We’ve enjoyed a warm welcome from Ypsi residents who’ve stopped by – some learning about energy efficiency for the first time, many already aware that they WANT to do something differently, and some who teach me even more about how our products work. Almost everyone has left excited, enthused, and even grateful that we are offering these products, information, and services.
Let’s face it – we’re the first clean energy store in the state of Michigan AND we’re in a lousy economy – both challenges which could mean we’ll need more time to flourish as a retail store. But it’s obvious to us and to anyone who walks in here, whether they can afford a dual-flush toilet right now or not, that our store is NEEDED. People want to feel empowered to help themselves with lower utility bills, to help Ypsilanti by shopping locally, to help the environment by conserving energy and water.
The Clean Energy Coalition’s mission is to promote clean energy technologies (including energy efficiency and renewable energy) as a way to create healthier, energy independent communities. There’s no doubt to us that the Energy Outlet moves us substantially forward toward accomplishing that mission, one conversation at a time.
MARK: I know that for a while, I believe through the Clean Energy Coalition, there were funds available for business owners to have energy assessments done. Are there similar programs for owners of residential homes? How about funding for the installation of energy efficient products – is there state or federal funding available, perhaps through tax credits?
DEB: If you have Michcon as your gas provider or all electric heat from DTE, DTE/Michcon is offering rebates on home energy audits. You can qualify for up to $250 off your audit if you act on some of their recommendations. With the audit, you are also eligible to receive up to $1,500 in rebates for energy conservation improvements to your home. See details here.
MARK: What about general informational sessions for homeowners? Do you hold workshops, or have special events planned for the store? And how about a demo home? Any plans for one in the future? Ypsi might not be the right place for it, but I always thought that it would be cool to have two identical homes side by side, with one completely outfitted with energy efficient products, and then measure their utility usage in real-time via a website. I think that would be really powerful.
DEB: I love the idea of a “normal” house and an energy efficient house side-by-side. That sounds like quite a visionary project. Maybe we could include that option as we are applying for energy efficiency grants…
In regard to informational sessions, the Clean Energy Coalition offices include a conference room in the back where we will host classes presented by local “green” business owners and our own CEC staff. Our “Green Classroom” opened in October.
As you can see from our schedule, the Green Classroom offers a variety of DIY classes and informational seminars, including reducing your energy bills, do you need replacement windows, energy audits, solar hot water heating, and getting the most out of the energy tax credits.
The Energy Outlet, located at 44 East Cross Street, is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM.