Group hopes billboard speeds push toward renewable energy

Becky Vargo • Sep 8, 2017 at 8:00 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — A new billboard unveiled Thursday on the south side of Grand Haven is designed to encourage local officials to speed up efforts to close the city’s coal-fired power plant, as well as to “get the citizens excited about moving to clean energy,” its supporters say.

A rally took place underneath the billboard located along the west side of southbound U.S. 31, south of Comstock Street in Grand Haven Township. It is viewable to motorists heading north on the highway.

Sierra Club representative Jan O’Connell, speaking for Friends for a Beautiful Grand Haven, said the group is pushing the Grand Haven Board of Light & Power to shut down its Sims plant on Harbor Island. They are also requesting that power plant officials and board members get innovative and look at going beyond the minimum when working toward alternative energy requirements. 

“We’re already evaluating the closure of Sims,” BLP spokeswoman Renee Molyneux said. “We’ve been looking at it for several years.”

Before that can happen, the utility has to upgrade its transmission lines, Molyneux explained. The upgrade is being done in three phases and will be completed in 2019, she said.

In the meantime, BLP officials will continue to explore the next steps for the municipal utility, she said. 

“Are we going to buy off the grid?” Molyneux posed. “Are we going to build something local?”

While O’Connell claims the process has slowed down since a change in administration at the BLP, Molyneux said it’s the opposite. “Our main goal for a long time” is to diversify and plan for the end of life of the Sims plant, she said.

Molyneux said the plant has about 3-5 years worth of work left.

Also speaking at Thursday’s rally were Grand Valley State University professor Erik Nordman, Westwind Construction & Development Representative Arn Boezaart, and Roz Linsea of Solar Winds Power Systems.

Boezaart noted that Michigan now has 1,524 megawatts of operational wind energy. He also said there are 263 solar energy installations of all sizes in the state.

“I think we’re on the cusp” of moving the renewable energy movement forward, Boezaart said.

More statistics on alternative energy use and more information on the Friends for a Beautiful Grand Haven can be found online at Friends-4-A-Beautiful-Grand-Haven.org.

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