Wind power may move GR water

August 14, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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The city government of Grand Rapids, which is determined to use all renewable energy by 2020, has advised Grand Haven Township of the possibility that it may seek permits to erect large wind turbines at the city-owned Lake Michigan Filtration Plant on the shoreline.

The beauty of doing this, said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, is that a large portion of the city's power demand actually comes from the filtration plant, located at the end of Lake Michigan Drive in Grand Haven Township.

"Imagine 15 pumps pushing millions of gallons of water daily up the pipeline 32 miles to Grand Rapids, and you can just begin to imagine how much electricity is used to do that. We can use all the power that we can possibly generate on that site and still not meet the total demand of the (filtration plant)," said Heartwell.

Patrick Waterman, Grand Haven Township community development director and head of the planning department, said the initial response of township officials there was to ask the city of Grand Rapids to put the proposal in writing. Heartwell said last week a written proposal was being drafted.

Waterman indicated that at the initial meeting, GR officials had not made any firm decisions as to the size and number of wind turbines at the filtration plant.

"They just said ‘large’ ones," said Waterman. "They need to have the return on investment."

Haris Alibasic, acting assistant to the Grand Rapids city manager and the manager of the city's new Office of Energy & Sustainability, said the annual load for all of the city departments averages about 110,000 megawatt hours. He said the Lake Michigan Filtration Plant uses about 18,500 MW hours annually.

Large utility-grade turbines can generate from 2.5 to 3.5 MW of load in full operation.

Heartwell said wind turbines generating power at the filtration plant for use there would be a more efficient operation than the generation of power that has to be transmitted to a distant user. An electrical load loses a significant amount of its power the farther it is transmitted from its source. According to information supplied by Alibasic, losses of energy in the U.S. between the generator and the end user were estimated at 7.2 percent in 2003.

Both Heartwell and Alibasic stressed that the idea for using turbines at the filtration plant is still in the "exploratory" stage.

Alibasic said the filtration plant is on a 60-acre site, and Grand Rapids also has an adjacent parcel of about 79 acres.

"We've got what we think is enough land there to create some isolation from the homes along the lakeshore, and still be able to capture the lake winds that blow strongly through that area," said Heartwell.

"We decided it was important for us to get to township officials right away, so we sent a team over to meet with Grand Haven Township officials. We certainly don’t want to act like we're trying to force something on anybody. We want to do it right, do it properly, in partnership with Grand Haven Township," he added.

As for financing the purchase and installation of large wind turbines, Heartwell said the city can issue tax-exempt bonds. He said he understands large turbines are "about a $3 million to $3.5 million investment."

He said that if the city ultimately decided to erect two turbines and had the go-ahead from Grand Haven Township, the $6 million to $7 million required would be "a relatively small amount for a bond issue, but nonetheless … that gives us a low borrowing rate."

Heartwell, an avid proponent of renewable energy, noted that the city set a goal of using 20 percent renewable energy and "we have achieved 20 percent already." The long-term goal set last year calls for use of renewable energy only by 2020.

The city of Grand Rapids has been listed among the top cities in the nation for the amount of renewable energy it uses, according to city officials, and is listed in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Green Power Leadership Club.

In May, Grand Rapids was named Green Generation Customer of the Year by Consumers Energy. The Green Generation program was the first voluntary renewable energy program offered by Michigan utilities and now has more than 13,000 customer participants.

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