Grand Haven BLP Considers Renewable Energy

June 4, 2002
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GRAND HAVEN — The city’s electric utility may proceed in the coming year with a program that would allow customers to buy power generated from renewable energy sources.

A “green power” program is inevitable for the Grand Haven Board of Light and Power, as customers indicate a willingness to pay more for electricity from non-polluting and virtually limitless sources of energy, General Manager Phil Trumpfheller said.

Launching a green power program toward the latter part of 2002 is a “realistic” goal for the utility, Trumpfheller said.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Trumpfheller said. “We would eventually like to offer that.

“Any utility needs to consider offering that to any customer who wants it,” he said.

A recent bi-annual customer satisfaction survey that the Board of Light and Power conducted found solid support for a green power program, with nearly one-third of respondents indicating they believed there is some value in it.

Twenty-one percent of the respondents rated green power as “very valuable” and 28 percent called it “fairly valuable.” Thirty-two percent considered a green power program “somewhat valuable.”

But the Board of Light and Power isn’t in a position right now to develop and launch a renewable energy initiative. The utility presently has other pressing priorities on its plate, including an ongoing pilot program to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from its Sims III power plant to meet the last federal clean air regulations.

That leaves staff with little time to devote toward developing a marketing and promotion program needed to attract customers to a green power program. The utility needs to make sure a certain number of customers will buy into a program before it signs contracts with renewable energy producers, Trumpfheller said.

“I wanted somebody to commit to it before I commit to it,” Trumpfheller said. “To launch a campaign of that magnitude, we just don’t have the resources to do it right now.”

Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and hydroelectric account for just a small fraction of the power generated and sold in Michigan, although it is beginning to catch on.

Consumers Energy Co. launched a renewable energy program Oct. 1 that enables up to 18,000 of its 1.7 million customers statewide to buy all or part of their electricity from green power sources for an additional fee. About 250 residential and commercial customers had enrolled in the program as of mid-December.

Consumers Energy’s three-year pilot program offers three options from which to choose.

Residential, commercial and industrial customers who want 100 percent of their electricity to come from renewable energy sources pay a surcharge of 3 cents per kilowatt-hour. Customers seeking 50 percent of their power from green sources pay an additional 1.5 cents per kilowatt, and those who wish to have 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources pay 0.3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Residential customers of Consumers Energy now pay an average of 8.5 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity. Commercial customers pay about 7.3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

The additional cost of renewable energy, although it’s expected to come down in the years ahead as the industry evolves and grows, is one of its drawbacks. That’s why the Grand Haven Board of Light and Power wants to wait until it’s prepared to fully promote and market a green power program and its benefits to consumers.

“They say they’re interested in it, but when it comes down to it, are they interested in paying for it?” Trumpfheller said.

When the Board of Light and Power launches a green power program, it will join municipal utilities in Traverse City and Lansing in offering the service. Others also are considering ventures, including the Zeeland Board of Public Works.

A study the Zeeland municipal utility completed this year indicates it “can do something locally” to generate electricity with a wind turbine, although the level of winds in the region make a venture “kind of marginal,” General Manager Dave Walters said.

The utility is still collecting data and researching the idea, Walters said. The long-term goal is to develop a wind generator that can complement the utility’s existing power supply, he said.

“It’s going to be a supplemental resource at best,” he said. “We’re very interested in it.”      

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