East Lansing’s largest utility provider is seeking public input on its regional clean energy plan.
The Lansing Board of Water & Light, or BWL, has committed to 30% clean energy by 2020 and 40% by 2030, meaning an 80% improved air quality and environmental health, as well as a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, by 2025.
These goals stem from the utility company’s integrated resource plans.
The latest plan, after a series of open houses, will be presented to the company’s board of commissioners in January 2020.
These plans are management tools that compel periodic examination of customer demand for power and how to best meet them going forward, said Brandie Ekren, executive director of strategic planning and development for BWL.
BWL’s mission statement is to provide safe, reliable and affordable utility products and services throughout the greater Lansing region.
BWL serves roughly three-quarters of East Lansing’s electricity. The other quarter is served by Consumers Energy.
Most of the west side of the city is run and upheld by BWL, with the exception of a strip of land along U.S. Highway 127 and the Red Cedar neighborhood, East Lansing Council Member Mark Meadows said. East of Park Lake Road is served by Consumers Energy.
Ekren said every five years, BWL creates these plans as a common practice in industry, led by BWL employees with help from an industry research consultant.
The new plan
“The residents of this area obviously want to see green energy investment and BWL is taking that into account. Especially because it is a public utility,” Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens said. “There are members (on the board) that are just part of the community, so they are pushing that agenda on the board, and we are as well.”
After the board of commissioners hears the plan in January 2020, they could vote to approve it in July 2020, allowing implementation to begin in January 2021.
“BWL, presumably, will be moving towards 100% clean energy at some point. The university is at this point in time, the city is at this point in time,” Meadows said. “I would hope that they would actually accelerate those figures. I think that they can do better and I’m hoping that they will.”
BWL will add both wind and solar power to its renewable portfolio to reinforce its commitments.
“We want to encourage BWL to invest in their own (green energy),” Stephens said. “We want our city doing the things necessary to keep green energy here so we’re not producing it somewhere else. For us and for the majority of people who are going to move towards solar energy, it’s about producing your own. Then, when things are not operational (or) things are not being used, that energy is still being produced and might even be able to be sold back to the utility.”
East Lansing already partnered with BWL to install solar energy via a solar park which opened last spring.
A second solar array is still in the works at the Department of Public Works & Environmental Services site on State Road and Coolidge Road.
“We have a whole set of plans to put solar on rooftops of city buildings ... and parking lots,” Meadows said. “We’re moving very rapidly towards our objective of 100% clean energy, taking care of any city services if not our citizens.”
Meadows said he does not know for certain if it will have an impact on the city, because they have already begun encouraging requirements tailored to the installation of green energy, green roofs and highly energy efficient buildings.
“I’m hoping that we can continue to push for it and then, when the technology catches up to us with batteries and solar power and other, I hope we just get to the point where we can start producing our own energy,” Stephens said.
East Lansing’s cooperation
The East Lansing City Council holds two non-voting seats on BWL’s board of commissioners, which includes eight appointed local citizens.
“The city of Lansing cooperates and works with them a lot more, but we have constant communication with them,” Stephens said. “Elected officials like myself go to meetings, talk to them about anything from constituent issues to tree removal to power lines.”
Stephens said in addition, the utility company does regular maintenance work as well as coordinates with the city to get information out to residents.
Past versions of BWL’s energy plan
In 2016, BWL worked with a Citizens Advisory Committee to determine and implement its current strategic plan, which was set to assist wmoving BWL into becoming the state’s cleanest electric unit.
This plan drives to end all use of coal by 2025 through the replacement of the aging Eckert Power and Erickson Power Stations with new, cleaner, more natural gas-fired power plants and a substantial increase in renewable power.
The move is vitally important to the city’s development, allowing familiarity around the language of environmentally-friendly strategies, Stephens said.
“We are building a lot in East Lansing right now,” Stephens said. “These buildings are going to be around for a heck of a long time, so you can imagine that when the energy shift happens, these buildings will still be here.”
This plan is still being operated on and will be complete in December 2020.
“The city of East Lansing strongly wants this. The city of Lansing has illustrated that as well,” Stephens said. “They go, I think, further than DTE (Energy) and other energy sources.”