Last month, the Holland City Council unanimously approved forming six “working groups” to begin implementing several parts of the Community Energy Plan proposed to the city last fall by a council-appointed citizen committee.
|While supporters displayed a petition containing children’s “carbon footprints,” Susan Harley of Clean Water Action urged the Holland City Council to support stronger energy efficiency measures. (Photo: Jim Dulzo/MLUI)|
But most council members again declined to endorse the entire plan saying, as they did when they formally received it, that they want to first see an economic analysis of the new coal- and natural gas-fired power plants that the CEP process considered.
The council and the public will get its first look at the long-delayed analysis, known as the HDR report, on Wednesday, Aug. 8., at a 6 p.m. joint study session with officials of the Holland Board of Public Works, the city-owned utility, at the Haworth Inn & Conference Center, 225 College Avenue, in Holland.
Several environmental organizations continue to say that waiting for the HDR report was unnecessary, and that it’s premature to begin building new coal- or gas-fired plants. They want the city to take a more ambitious approach to energy efficiency by strengthening and accelerating implementation of the CEP’s efficiency measures—particularly those for commercial and industrial customers—and to use more locally generated renewable energy. That, they say, might eliminate the need for a new fossil-fueled plant of any sort. The CEP suggests a variety of efficiency measures, from home insulation to district heating, for cutting residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional energy use in the city over the next 40 years. It also proposes replacing Holland’s aging coal-fired plant with new, natural gas-fired generation and wind and solar power.
The overall strategy is designed to attract new business investment in Holland by slowing the rise of volatile energy costs while protecting local air and water from toxic emissions and cutting climate-changing greenhouse gases.
What’s the Rush?
Representatives for a number of citizen organizations, including Susan Harley, of Clean Water Action, endorsed forming work groups, but said the strategy needed more emphasis on energy efficiency. Ms. Harley also presented the council with a colorful petition containing the footprints of dozens of children she said want the council to do everything it can to shrink the community’s climate-changing carbon footprint.
She cautioned the council against committing to a new fossil-fueled plant without pushing energy efficiency as much as possible.
“Michigan and Holland can’t afford to get this wrong,” Ms. Harley told the council. “Energy efficiency and renewables can get us there.”
Another speaker added, “I applaud you for considering this motion, but I caution you to look more closely at future demand, and to not move too quickly on generation, especially if it involves burning more fuels on our precious lakefront.”
One of the council’s new working groups, however, will do exactly that: According to the City of Holland’s Web site, the Electrical Generation working group will “Study and determine the most appropriate source(s) of additional electrical supply capacity for the HBPW to serve customer needs over the next 20-40 years in support of the principles and goals in the CEP.”
The Electrical Generation working group will include city and HBPW officials, possibly along with local residents and representatives of energy-related organizations. It is scheduled to report its finding to the council next month, with a decision by the council in October.
The group’s first assignment is Wednesday’s council-HBPW discussion of the HDR. City officials have promised other public gatherings so residents can comment on the HDR report and what they think should be done about it.
Meanwhile, Dave Hoekstra, the councilman who proposed endorsing the CEP without waiting for the HDR report, said after the vote that he’s glad the plan is finally gaining some traction via the creation of the working groups.
“The level of excitement among the council is very high,” Mr. Hoekstra said. “Everybody realizes the importance of this plan, its uniqueness, and its benefits. I don’t think that not voting to endorse the plan means that they are not on board; it is just a hesitancy to move too fast.”
When city staff and energy consultant Peter Garforth, of Garforth International LLC, released the CEP last September, he urged the council to look past the controversy of coal versus natural gas and move ahead with five recommended “scale projects” that would jump start efficiency projects and build momentum and public support for the entire strategy.
Three of the new working groups will begin looking at three of the suggested projects: Making homes in Holland more energy efficient; expanding the downtown’s waste-heat powered “snowmelt” district to heat some homes and businesses; and expanding HBPW’s services to include industrial heat and steam, hot and chilled water, compressed air, and vacuum—common needs of many industrial facilities.
The other two working groups will look into an energy-efficiency rating and labeling program for all buildings in the city, and an outreach and education program.
However, the vote did not address the CEP’s two other scale projects—launching aggressive energy efficiency programs for Hope College and for the cluster of buildings formed by Holland High School, Holland Hospital, and the Holland Aquatic Center.
Marty Kushler, a senior fellow at the American Council for Energy Efficiency who has worked as an efficiency program evaluator for the Michigan Public Service Commission, spoke before last month’s vote at a press conference sponsored by Clean Water Action and Sierra Club. He urged the council to come up with more effective plans for cutting energy use.
“Unfortunately, the energy efficiency ideas listed in the six task forces are very limited, and must be strengthened considerably,” he said.
In an interview after the vote, Mr. Kushler explained that, while he doesn’t oppose making Holland’s homes more energy efficient, it makes more economic sense to concentrate first on commercial and industrial buildings, which use the lion’s share of HBPW’s electricity, as well as on local wind and solar power.
“Only then,” he said in a written statement released at the press conference, “after including as much energy efficiency and cost-effective local renewable energy as possible, should the plan include a moderate amount of natural gas-fired electricity generation.”
Dave Koster, HBPW’s new general manager who has worked at the utility since 1989, said they have been working on commercial and industrial efficiency for 10 years—well before the state ordered utilities to do so in 2008.
Koster said claims that energy efficiency can eliminate the need for building a new fossil-fueled plant are unrealistic.
“The projections we’ve made for future load growth are based on efficiency being part of the evaluation,” he said after the council created the working groups, a move he welcomed. He said that 82 percent of HBPW’s electricity goes to the commercial and industrial sectors, but that even a very aggressive program targeting those customers would not eliminate the need for a quick decision on new coal- or natural gas-fired generation.
Koster pointed out that HBPW’s coal plant is quite old and that new federal regulations would make cleaning up its emissions very expensive, so a quick replacement is needed. Waste heat from a new fossil-fueled plant, he added, would allow the city to follow the CEP recommendation of expanding its district heating beyond the immediate downtown “snowmelt” area.
Councilman Mike Trethewey, one of five members who voted against endorsing the entire CEP, says he’s very optimistic that Holland is putting itself on a path that will sharply cut greenhouse gases while making the city more attractive to new businesses. After the vote, he said he’s learned a lot in the nearly two years since the city, its sustainability committee, and HBPW began thinking about a long-range energy plan for Holland.
“My eyes have been opened even though I’m in this type of [manufacturing] business every day,” he said. “The Garforth (CEP) report just blew me away, specifically the way Europe is using building energy efficiency labeling. I found that fascinating.
“We are talking about an entire mindset change here,” he continued. “We have to make sure that we have the overall picture. That is why I want to be cautious and not rush into it.”
And, he said, he’s confident that Holland’s residents and businesses will respond positively to whatever path the city council, HBPW, and citizens involved in defining and designing the big, 40-year project settle on.
“I feel very good,” he said, referring to the vote that launched the working groups. “I don’t have any doubt that we will have a lot of public participation. We are not working in a vacuum. We have asked and asked and asked for public input.”
At press time, however, the city website had no information on opportunities for residents to comment on the HDR report and whether Holland should build a new power plant.
Senior Editor Jim Dulzo writes about clean energy issues for the Michigan Land Use Institute. Reach him at [email protected].