Thursday night kicked off the ninth annual Sustainable Ann Arbor forum, a series of monthly events from January to April focused on the city’s Sustainability Framework hosted by the Ann Arbor District Library. 

This month’s forum focused on the energy sector, with a panel of five experts in the field of sustainable energy each presenting on their respective areas of focus. About 60 community members attended the event.

Josh MacDonald, the city’s energy coordinator, moderated the panel and began with a presentation about A2Zero, an initiative by the city of Ann Arbor to work towards the  city’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. MacDonald explained how the group plans to combine community feedback, technology advisory committees and partner organizations to develop a finalized plan that will be presented to City Council in March. 

“This involves the community directly, so we want to make sure that whatever we’re doing, we’re constantly getting feedback from the community,” MacDonald said. “It not only helps us to get a sense of what you all are thinking as far as greenhouse gas reductions, it also helps us to introduce these ideas to you and get feedback as to what you think about them.”

A2Zero hosted a town hall in November and has put out two surveys so far for community feedback. The second town hall and final survey will take place in February. 

Following MacDonald’s introduction, each panelist gave a presentation on their work with A2Zero and explained their individual efforts to reduce carbon neutrality. Panelists represented a variety of interests related to the energy sector from the state, DTE Energy and the University of Michigan. 

Chuck Hookham, a member of the Ann Arbor Energy Commission and the Michigan Board of Professional Engineers, presented on viable steps the energy sector can take to move toward carbon neutrality. He discussed the obstacles posed by the design of the infrastructure of Ann Arbor’s current energy system and the difficulties of adapting that system to more renewable energy.

“We’re trying to move as quick as we can,” Hookham said. “We have to keep your rates low — I don’t think anyone wants twice the electric bill, do you? I don’t think anybody wants interruption of heating in their house. These transitions we take on have to be done prudently but quickly, because we all know we don’t have much time.”

Susan Fancy, program manager for research and commercialization at the University’s Global CO2 Initiative, spoke about what institutions can do to reduce their carbon footprint, giving examples of initiatives at the University and other colleges nationwide. 

Fancy’s recommendations included forgoing fossil fuels, upgrading buildings to low-emissions standards and creating a culture of sustainability. She also spoke to the importance of restructuring energy systems with social justice in mind. 

“Our current energy systems are really regressive, at least historically they have been; unfortunately, the emissions and what-have-you tend to hit the people with the smallest voice and the smallest pocketbook,” Fancy said. “And so as we reinvent the emissions systems, it’s really important to do that through the lens of social justice so that we don’t repeat that mistake.” 

Reporter Angelina Little can be reached at

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