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Michigan Cities Building a Sustainable Energy Platform: Holland, Ann Arbor and Beyond


Editor's Note: This is the second post in a two-part series examining how Michigan cities are adopting sustainable energy efficiency platforms to recover from the economic downturn. In case you missed it, you can read the first post here.

By Dr. Haris Alibašić

The Holland Board of Public Works is a municipal utility in the city of Holland, Mich. Having a municipal utility presents a significant opportunity for advancement of the energy goals for the organization and community. In 2011, Holland developed a comprehensive community energy efficiency and conservation strategy establishing a baseline and long-term energy scenarios.  The action items included in the strategy include a district heating program, Industrial Services – the “Holland Full Utility Service Bundle," a building energy labeling program, and community education and outreach -- among others.

All the elements of community-wide and organizational outreach are recognized in these plans, as well as laser-like focus on energy efficiency and support for renewable energy. One of the principle writers of Holland’s energy plans and the city’s planner, Mark VanderPloeg, commented that having a “municipal utility is a benefit to the community.” As Mark described it, the city of Holland has also completed many what could be considered “the low hanging fruit” energy efficiency projects , including lighting upgrades and innovative downtown pedestrian lighting  retrofits.

Now, the city is taking things a step further. According to a recent press release, the Holland City Council and the Holland Board of Public Works approved the pricing and sale of $158.84 million in municipal revenue bonds to help fund building a combined cycle natural gas power generating facility.  While Holland does not have a set renewable energy goal for its operations, its Board of Public Works will invest in renewables and significant energy efficiency projects, including downtown heating and cooling. Its commitment to renewable energy through Holland BPW was demonstrated through a 20-year contract with the Michigan Public Power Agency (MPPA).  The BPW is looking to build a new natural gas facility, which will have excess thermal heat that could enable expansion of the existing snowmelt system.  This provides an opportunity to start the district energy system and heating and cooling system.

A look at the city of Ann Arbor

Officials in the city of Ann Arbor have also deployed similar strategies to those used in Grand Rapids and Holland. Ann Arbor has a strong reputation of environmental planning, concentrating on climate change and sustainable energy, both in the areas of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Sustainability is institutionalized and is included in the city’s planning process, where communication of the progress in sustainability-related areas is very important. The city’s Sustainable Action Plan includes both quantified and qualified targets, and Ann Arbor factors it into its Master Plan in order to integrate sustainability and to encourage accountability and transparency.

Ann Arbor has deployed various sustainable energy strategies as part of the plan.  When compared to other cities in Michigan, Ann Arbor has a strong interest in financing energy efficiency improvements in commercial buildings using “Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) districts to finance efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems to commercial and industrial properties through voluntary special assessments bonds.” In additional energy efficiency efforts, using existing data and “forecasting future scenarios” the city set a 30 percent renewable energy goal for municipal operations by 2015. Additionally, Ann Arbor through its a2energy outreach and education effort is reaching out and promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy to residents and businesses.

Other cities in Michigan

Other cities in Michigan have also explored and implemented sustainable energy in their operations, from Dearborn with their energy efficiency improvements, solar, and energy performance contracting for lighting in their fire houses; to an innovative performance contracting project in Farmington Hills for efficiency upgrades and conservation measures; to city-wide geothermal in Wyandotte.

Positive outcomes related to successful deployment of sustainable energy platforms in Michigan cities has a ripple effect on communities and organizations, and there are many other program and project opportunities to be explored that could benefit cities both inside and outside the state.

Image credit: Flickr/michigancommunities

Haris Alibašić directs the City of Grand Rapids’ Office of Energy and Sustainability and teaches courses and workshops in the Graduate Certificate in Sustainability program at Grand Valley State University. Haris holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration.  He may be reached at halibasi at grcity.us

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