Holland Energy Park

Power Gone Platinum

Blogger: Michaella Wittmann, Director of Sustainabililty | Omaha, NE, USA
July 28, 2016

I’ve never had an experience quite like this. When you think of a power plant, the word “sustainable” is probably far from your mind. And that’s with good reason since most utilities don’t plan projects with sustainability at the core.

Our client, the Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW), isn’t the type to go with the status quo. It’s a pretty solid reflection of the people the utility serves in Holland, Michigan.

“We’re building a new power plant. Make it better. Make it sustainable.” That’s what they asked, so that’s what we did. The result is the first-ever Envision Sustainable Infrastructure Rating System Verified central power plant. Called Holland Energy Park, it’s rated at the highest Envision level possible—Platinum.

How we got here all started with HBPW fully embracing the idea to carry out exhaustive Sustainable Return on Investment (SROI) analyses (another power generation industry first), which led to the decision to use a natural gas solution. When fully operational, the $240 million plant will achieve many environmental objectives, including a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions; the development of open, public space that connects with other areas of the city; and using the latest combined-cycle natural gas-generating technology to produce power to meet the needs of the growing Holland community. Above all, it will undoubtedly set a new standard by introducing the reimagined power plant of tomorrow.

Holland Energy Park will look great, too, since its design is encased in an architectural façade that blends with the surrounding community, and it has walking paths, waterfalls and wildflowers growing around the building. One particularly beneficial function is that it will make getting around in the winter a little safer due to its expansive hidden snowmelt system under the city’s downtown sidewalks.

So many aspects of this plant are unexpected—right down to the smallest details. My specialty is sustainability—it’s who I am and it’s what I do. So I thought I’d share five surprising, lesser-known sustainable aspects of Holland Energy Park.

  1. Where possible, existing trees weren’t cut down. Instead, they’re either being preserved in place or they are being housed in a tree farm until landscaping is installed and they can be moved to their final on-site destinations.
  2. A historic home and one of two pole barns located on the site were auctioned off. The other pole barn will be repurposed for equipment storage at one of HBPW’s substations.
  3. Waste heat from the new plant is helping expand the hidden snowmelt system, making it the most extensive system in the country. It will keep the city’s downtown sidewalks clear of snow and ice in the winter.
  4. The Holland community rallied behind the project, and community members were involved from the start. In fact, they were at the heart of the decision not to expand the existing coal-fired plant, and instead move toward a more sustainable solution. Input from local nature non-profit organizations and even a local Hope College student helped plan for the Envision verification.
  5. HBPW whole-heartedly embraced the Envision process. Five staff members outside of the project team even hit the books to earn Envision Sustainability Professional credentials.

Moving forward, HBPW plans to apply Envision principles to all major capital projects.

For more information, visit HDR’s website.


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