Questions & Answers with community faces
Crystal Mountain near Thompsonville is not your average four-season resort, and Jim MacInnes is not your average CEO. He is a former electrical power engineer and a well-respected environmentalist, known throughout the state as a renewable energy advocate—one who preaches “green,” not only for moral reasons but because clean energy makes economic sense.
Under the leadership of Jim MacInnes, and his wife, Chris (Petritz) MacInnes—whose parents previously owned Crystal Mountain—the resort has undertaken many environmental initiatives. These include: being the first Michigan ski resort to purchase wind-energy offsets to cover the energy use of a new high-speed chairlift in the late 1990s; achieving LEED environmental design certification for a new spa in 2008; installing public charging stations for electric cars in 2011; working with Bay Area Recycling for Charities (BARC) to become 60 percent zero-waste (which The Betsie Current covered in 2014); and, most recently, the resort is adding geothermal power as early as this fall. In addition, wherever possible, Crystal Mountain’s restaurants use local foods, compostable servicewear, and environmentally safe cleaning products, such as vinegar instead of harsh chemicals.
MacInnes believes that reducing energy use is good for the planet, and that is good for Crystal Mountain’s bottom line. “Global warming is bad for our ski business,” he frequently tells journalists.
Practicing what he preaches, MacInnes frequently drives his Tesla on the back roads of Northern Michigan. He recently received the prestigious Clarence Kroupa Award at the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council’s “Environmentalist of the Year” awards ceremony in late April.
Additionally, MacInnes will kick off the Michigan Clean Energy Conference & Fair—running June 23-25 in Traverse City—by moderating a panel at The State Theatre on Friday night about the future of electric mobility. The conference is organized, in part, by the Traverse City-based Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities (formerly the Beulah-based Michigan Land Use Institute, or MLUI), on whose advisory council MacInnes sits. Keynote speakers on Saturday include former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) and Mary Powell, CEO of the Vermont company Green Mountain Power, which this year was named one of the top 10 energy companies in the world by Fast Company.
Continuing with our interview series on impactful Benzie County characters, The Betsie Current caught up with MacInnes at Crystal Mountain.
The Betsie Current: Of what accomplishment are you most proud, with respect to Crystal Mountain’s push for energy sustainability?
Jim MacInnes: Our newest project—a 31,000-square-foot expansion to the Inn at the Mountain—will be heated and cooled using a closed-loop geothermal heat-pump system. The project includes two-dozen 460-foot-deep geothermal wells and a dozen geothermal heat pumps. Beyond being very energy efficient in its own right, the system will also be powered using a lot of low-carbon energy from our electricity provider, Cherryland Electric Cooperative.
Current: How can states, regions, cities, businesses, and communities do their part for the environment?
Jim MacInnes: It is disappointing that the White House has abandoned our leadership role on climate change [by pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord]. Leadership has the power to create positive momentum or impede progress, and this most recent decision gives me concern about our energy future and how America is viewed on the world stage. The world has long looked to the United States as being a respected leader [for clean energy], and we all would like to continue to set an example. However, we don’t need government to tell us to do the right thing. States and cities are already mobilizing, and this step will likely galvanize people’s efforts to take greater ownership of the problem and move forward even faster on clean energy. Major corporations and other businesses have the resources to make things happen on a grand scale and will play an important role, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because their customers are demanding it. Just watch.
Current: What has you most excited about the Michigan Clean Energy Conference coming to Traverse City? What do you expect to be your highlight of the weekend?
Jim MacInnes: It’s great to bring the conference here, because this topic is so front-of-mind in our region. The highlight for me will be talking about the future of electric mobility with our panel, which includes former Governor Jennifer Granholm. She is a thought-leader in clean energy, and it will be enlightening to hear her thoughts on the future of mobility.
Current: How often are you attending conferences like this? What are you learning from others?
Jim MacInnes: For example, I’m going to an electrical engineering conference in Chicago in July hosted by the IEEE Power and Energy Society. [Pronounced “Eye-triple-E,” which stands for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] IEEE is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to the advancement of technology for humanity. There will be more than 3,000 power engineers from around the world discussing what is new in power and energy technology. I’m looking forward to that. I try to attend energy and/or ecology-related conferences each year to keep up to date on these topics. We worked with an organization called Local Future to host “The Conference on Michigan’s Future: Energy, Economy, and Environment” in 2008, 2009, and 2013, bringing in dozens of great speakers. Now, I am mostly focused on helping people to better understand and implement these important clean-energy technologies.
Current: We know that you drive a Tesla and love it. What are some reasons to be optimistic about the marketplace driving innovation in the electric mobility realm?
Jim MacInnes: For a start, electric vehicles are way more energy efficient and have a lot fewer moving parts. This makes them mechanically simpler and less subject to breakdown. They have software that can be updated over the internet, so, rather than becoming obsolete, they will improve over time—much like your phone. You are already seeing this with Tesla. Internal combustion engines create a lot of pollution, while EVs [electric vehicles] have zero emissions. A lot more low-carbon energy is also being incorporated into the power grid. Air pollution is one of the reasons that China is pressing hard to deploy EVs as quickly as possible. I think that most auto manufactures have already determined that EV technology is inevitable, for many of those reasons.
Current: Softball question—Jim, since the conference falls just after the Summer Solstice, what is your ideal way to spend the longest day of the year in Northern Michigan?
Jim MacInnes: That’s easy, I’d spend the day bicycling some of the beautiful bike trails in our Grand Traverse region.
Editor’s Note: Jacob Wheeler performed this interview. He is a former editor for The Betsie Current and is currently communications manager at the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities (formerly the Michigan Land Use Institute, or MLUI), which—together with the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association—is facilitating the Michigan Clean Energy Conference & Fair on June 23-25 in Traverse City. Learn more about the conference at MIcleanenergyconference.org.