City to study future snowmelt energy sources, possible expansion

Alex Doty • Nov 7, 2017 at 12:00 PM

The 2018 Harbor Drive infrastructure reconstruction project has brought to light discussions about the future of the city’s downtown snowmelt system.

City Council on Monday night unanimously agreed to engage with GMB Architects & Engineering to evaluate future energy sources for the snowmelt system, as well as to study the possibility of extending the system during the upcoming road and utility reconstruction project, at a cost of $12,600.

"This proposal will give us what we need to know if we want to make these investments while we're working on the (Harbor Drive) project," said City Manager Pat McGinnis.

McGinnis noted that a number of factors have brought the issue of studying the future of the system to a head.

"When we first conceived of this project several years ago, it seemed like the coal-burning power plant would be there forever," he said.

The snowmelt system relies on heat generated during the production of electricity at the coal-fired Sims power plant on Harbor Island as its energy source. With the future of the coal-burning power plant uncertain, city officials say they need to have a redundant and back-up source of energy to power the snowmelt system in the future.

McGinnis said they'd like to see if it’s possible to add natural gas-powered boilers to the basement of the former Depot museum, or some other area downtown, as an alternative to the Sims power source. He noted that the cost of natural gas has come down since the snowmelt system was first designed and installed nearly a decade ago, making the possibility of a gas-fired boiler more feasible. 

The study will also look at the possibility of running snowmelt in the area of the upcoming Harbor Drive infrastructure improvement area, from the Harbor/Washington intersection to the front of the Zephyr building, and to the area in front of 1 S. Harbor Ave.

"These property owners have said they want to run snowmelt in front of their buildings as part of the (Harbor Drive) project," McGinnis said, noting that at a minimum they would like to see the sidewalks in front of their properties equipped with snowmelt.

The GMB study will give the city the basic information needed to price out snowmelt expansion options and make recommendations to the Main Street Board and City Council.

Grand Haven officials say the study would also help the city investigate future snowmelt energy feasibility options due to several factors, including unreliable delivery of heat from the Sims plant, the cost of energy and the sustainability of the BLP as an energy source.

The proposed cost of the expansion of the system is $2,100, and the cost of the investigation into future energy sources is $10,500.

McGinnis said he will be meeting with the Main Street Board for their input regarding the best way to pay for the study and possible improvements.

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