There is a little town in the Sierras that we’ve been visiting for many years. The economic downturn has been particularly hard on such towns. Local shops and restaurants are boarded up and the public golf course is returning to nature following a tax sale. There is now a sign at the entrance to the main shopping area that basically says, “Support local merchants – shop in town.”
Buy local. Common sense, isn’t it? When local businesses go under, jobs and convenient services dry up, and the town becomes a less attractive place for both locals and visitors. Money still flows out of the town, because residents still need purchased goods and services.
Does common sense apply to energy? Would it be a plus for a community’s economy to shop local for energy?
Let’s take a look at the big picture. Dollars are shipped out of town for each unit of energy that comes in. They flow to regional utilities, wholesale fuel suppliers, then all the way down their supply chains, no part of which is typically local. The outflow is economically significant. When spread over the US population, annual energy costs were $3,461 per person. This is about 10% of the per capita annual income in the little town in the Sierras mentioned above.
If the opportunity existed to internalize at least some of the energy dollar outflow from the town, it might matter. A lot? A little? That would depend. The possibility is intriguing. Some northern California communities are moving in the direction of making it matter a lot. Others are exploring the option, not only because of economic considerations, but because they have goals to reduce their carbon footprint and/or take a more thoughtful and integrated approach to the management and use of local land, air, water, waste, and energy resources.
In future blogs I’ll share some insights from these efforts. They are the reason for The IRES Network. IRES stands for Integrated Resources Enabling Sustainability. Networking in this matter meets an essential need to share experience, ideas and solutions. – Gerry Braun
© 2012 The IRES Network
 For a thoughtful discussion of the balance between supporting local businesses vs. mega-corporations, see Bruce Maiman’s op-ed: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/11/27/5011951/shopping-local-is-better-community.html
Source: California Department of Finance: http://www.dof.ca.gov/HTML/FS_DATA/profiles/pf_home.php