Commission Rejects Wind Power

November 15, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — A power struggle of sorts is brewing in Grand Rapids and commissioners have fired the first shot.

The City Commission Tuesday voted against purchasing wind power from a Colorado-based company to serve the city’s new Water/Environmental Services Facility.

The facility at 1900 Oak Industrial Drive will be the first municipal building in Michigan to receive Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, and energy from a clean source like wind power was perceived as a natural fit for the green building.

The clean energy source also would have given the facility Green-e renewable energy certification and qualified it for prestigious LEED Silver certification, the second highest of four certification levels that USGBC awards. Green-e certification denotes an “environmentally superior” energy option.

Under the two-year agreement, the city would have paid $7,626 out of the Water Supply System Operating fund to purchase renewable energy certificates from Boulder, Colo.-based Renewable Choice Energy for wind energy replacement of 100 percent of the facility’s electrical use. Wind energy replacement would have cost an additional one-cent per kilowatt over that time period.

The city’s strategic plan promotes LEED certification and improved sustainability of city facilities, but four out of seven members of the commission apparently didn’t feel they could justify spending taxpayer dollars for green power “just to earn the city bragging rights” to the greenest municipal building in the state.

First Ward Commissioner James Jendrasiak balked at the idea of buying power from an out-of-state energy provider and paying more for it to boot. He noted there is an emerging company in Michigan that’s gearing up to provide green power.

“Let’s partner with that company and build Michigan’s green power industry instead of giving money to Colorado and paying more for the electricity we’re already purchasing,” Jendrasiak urged other commissioners.

Mayor George Heartwell said to his understanding it’s going to be several years before partnership opportunities like that will be available. He also pointed out that Consumers Energy has not completed the Green-e certification process and probably won’t for a couple of years, so its green energy can’t be used on a LEED-certified building today. A clean energy source would have to be purchased from someplace else, he said.

Jendrasiak said the city is very committed to LEED certification, the environment and green power, but suggested the city could go for Green-e certification at a later time when green power is readily available here.

“The question is whether or not we want to help Michigan achieve the goal of generating green power or pay somebody in Colorado — and pay extra — just so we can get a certificate,” he asserted. “It’s our taxpayers that have to foot the bill for this.”

Commissioner Rick Tormala said by purchasing wind power from an out-of-state source, the city would set itself up as an example.

“Does that mean we want to encourage buildings that go through the same thing to start investing in Colorado because there’s nothing here?” Tormala asked. “I have a problem with that. I think it sends the wrong message. We’ve got a company that’s growing here and we should try to help nurse it along.”    

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