August 25, 2008

Vision Could Soon Be Paying Off

By Paul-Stanton, Jo Anne

At the Lansing Board of Water & Light, long known as innovators with eco-friendly ideas, they are beginning to see the fruit of their labor. "Test burns" are being experimented with now to test the company's latest green initiative-generating power from biomass, such as wood and waste. "We are the only utility in the state planning to reduce our carbon footprint," said J. Peter Lark, general manager of the BWL. The testing in the Moores River Steam Plant located at the Eckert Power Station in Lansing, is in advance of the company's plans to build a facility dedicated to alternative fuel sources. Lark said the plant, still some ten years off, is designed to provide 30 percent of its power from biomass.

The idea is just the latest for a company that has been working for years to be ahead of the curve on reduction of carbon emissions. "Our goal for the proposed plant is to meet the requirements we anticipate of expected new federal carbon standards," said Lark. The proposal calls for taking one plant out of service and replacing it with a smaller, more efficient facility. The plant would burn less coal than in the past while generating more electricity. The proposal also would burn biomass, which is a carbon neutral fuel.

Lark worked as a consumer advocate and was chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission before agreeing to head up the state's largest municipal utility company. BWL's green initiatives moved into full swing when he took the helm, but Lark said the company's board of commissioners had been moving in that direction for years. "Their ideas of energy conservation and reform were part of the reason the job was so attractive." He credits the commissioners for making BWL the first utility company in Michigan to pass a Renewable Portfolio Standard, calling for at least 7 percent of its electricity to be generated from renewable energy. Its fun to come to a place ahead of the curve, expand the ideas and bring them to reality."

The Lansing Board of Water & Light's ecofriendly programs run the gamut, ranging from the simple to the extreme. An energy efficiency specialist has been brought onboard to oversee the company's green initiative. A program was launched encouraging customers to swap traditional light bulbs for more energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL). BWL entered into an historic complicated partnership with Granger Waste Management Company to purchase electricity generated by burning landfill gas at its site north of Lansing. "Methane gas is 25 percent more potent than greenhouse gas," said Lark. "We're not only taking it out of the air, we're also converting it to usable electricity."

According to Lark, the company isn't out of ideas yet. In fact, he said the board is now looking at a significant financial investment in more of what the state has to offer naturally: solar and wind power. "You can expect a major announcement in the very near future."

The Lansing Board of Water & Light has been recognized nationally for its efforts. It is one of only 84 public utilities in the country to receive the designation of a Reliable Public Power Provider from the American Public Power Association. The utility showed that dependability when a series of storm systems moved through the state recently. BWL crews were able to restore service within a reasonable amount of time. Its competitors were called before the Michigan Public Service Commission to explain why it took so long for power to be restored to their customers.

BWL was able to get things back up and running to most customers within three days despite suffering major wind damage to its own property. Lark said one of five cooling stacks at the Eckert Plant was decimated. In addition, BWL lost more than a third of its distribution system. "We did in three or four days what it took years to put up," he says. "BWL just dug in and got the job done."

Copyright Greater Lansing Business Monthly Aug 2008

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