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Powering Up The City: NECA Leading the Charge on Net-Zero Electric Production

NECA is leading the charge on net-zero electric production

More than a century ago, mid-Michigan’s electrical professionals got to work bringing electric light to Greater Lansing for the first time ever. Now, their successors are on the leading edge of another transformational change in how we power our places and spaces.

Increasingly, electric power is replacing natural gas for the appliances in our homes and businesses. Electric power allows the use of more efficient equipment powered from a variety of nontraditional sources. Driving the change is sustainability: Electric production is incorporating net-zero emission sources like solar and wind, while natural gas is a major contributor to carbon emissions.

Government officials at all levels, from federal to local, are looking to eliminate carbon emissions within the next few decades. President Joe Biden has said wants to aim for 2050, while some local governments are targeting a much sooner timeline. At all levels, plans call for moving to full electrification, powered by renewable energy.

That means big changes are ahead for Greater Lansing’s homes and workspaces — and there’s a lot to do for the region’s electrical professionals.

“There has never been a more exciting time to get into the electrical trade. The amount of work for electricians in the coming decades is mind-boggling,” said Bryan Benton, assistant manager of the National Electrical Contractors Association’s Michigan Chapter. “Converting so many homes, businesses, schools, municipal buildings and industrial sites to all-electric is a massive undertaking. Further, solar farms and community solar projects will be built to provide us with clean energy, distributed through a renovated and reengineered electrical grid.”

The time for contractors and property owners to prepare is now.

“With everything going electric in the coming decades, businesses can create a plan for the transition in partnership with their NECA contractor,” Benton said.

In fact, such changes are already underway. Benton noted that “the most notable example is General Motors, which is bringing a $2.5 billion battery cell manufacturing facility to the Lansing area to support their transition to zero-emission vehicles.”

On the residential side, another notable example is Allen Place Apartments, which has energy-efficient electric appliances, electric heating and cooling, and electric vehicle charging stations. There’s also a “solar courtyard” powering a solar micro-grid with an on-site energy storage unit in partnership with the Lansing Board of Water and Light.

“This is a great example of where we’re all headed, both in new construction and in renovations,” Benton said.

That’s just the start.

“At the moment, the new work centers mostly around building large solar farms, like the Delta Solar Project that was built by one of our NECA contractors, and installing EV charging stations for municipal, commercial and industrial sites,” Benton said. “We are also seeing homeowners and business owners who are early adopters hiring our contractors to install rooftop solar and convert gas appliances. It’s important for people to know that solar equipment is electrical equipment, and under Michigan law it must be installed by an electrician who is licensed by the state of Michigan.”

The upside of all this effort includes cleaner indoor air.

Studies show gas appliances degrade indoor air quality. For example, homes with gas stoves can contain 50% to 400% higher concentrations of carbon monoxide than homes with electric stoves, resulting in levels of indoor air pollution that would be illegal outdoors.

More broadly, the elimination of carbon emissions and the move to clean energy will greatly benefit the health of people and our planet, as well as combat climate change.

“The task is awesome, and IBEW (the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 665) and NECA are positioned to lead the way,” Benton said, adding they’re also positioned to add to their rolls.

“We offer the best apprenticeship program, where students earn while they learn, participate in an intensive five-year educational program, and go on to work for local NECA contractors who provide great pay and benefits,” he said. “And we fund the training ourselves — no taxpayer money is used.”

For electrical workers, their role is multifaceted: They act as both contractor and educator for this electric evolution.

“That means when we are working on projects big and small, we need to help our customers think beyond what they need today and beyond what the National Electric Code calls for today,” Benton said. “For maximum efficiency, any new builds or renovations ideally would be done with eventual full electrification in mind. This will save our customers money and headaches down the road because we know it’s coming. It’s just a matter of when.”

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