September 22, 2017
8 min read

Want to build an energy park for the future? Ask your community.

Roman Elsener

They clapped when they saw the equipment for the Holland Energy Park being delivered – a world-class power plant, complete with walking trails, stunning architecture and enough heat for an elaborate snowmelt system under the city streets.

The City of Holland is a town of about 35,000 inhabitants in a beautiful tourist area near Lake Michigan. It was one of the first cities in the USA to become electrified and has kept that self-sufficient spirit. “Today, we’re dealing with Holland Energy Park. Tomorrow we’re expanding our broadband network in the downtown area. The following day we might be looking at our snowmelt system,” says Dave Koster, who is the General Manager for the Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW) and heads a team of 175 employees. The snowmelt system is one of the attractions during the heavy winters in Michigan: Hot water from the power plant running in tubes under the streets keeps downtown free from snow and the thriving shops open.

Koster takes us on a tour through Holland’s new combined heat and power (CHP) plant, and provides a short, enlightening history lesson: “In 1893, we started making power for the first time. They put in street lighting, arc lamps.” Over time, the system has grown to serve up over 240 megawatts of power on a peak basis to a community of around 100,000 people in HBPW’s service area, with 82 percent of the power going to commercial and industrial enterprises. “We’ve been an important catalyst for economic development in our community,” Koster says.

There was a major challenge, though: For several years Holland had been looking at the prospect of reaching an end of life of their old coal plant, built back in 1939. “We asked ourselves if it really was the best future for our community to invest in this coal plant again,” Koster says.


In a stakeholder-driven process, they took a look at the issue from a perspective 40 years into the future. “We explored a sustainable return on investment (SROI) model. I don’t know of any other case where a utility looked not only at the financial, but at the societal benefits and costs – the social and economic development impact on the community and the environment.” Koster’s number one takeaway from the stakeholder process: “Having the backing of the community was essential for moving forward.”

What became clear was that building a natural gas-fired, combined cycle technology plant would really help change the carbon footprint of the electric supply in the community. It would also provide a very cost-effective and efficient solution. It came coupled with an investment in renewables, and growing the portfolio of wind energy and the landfill gas generation that HBPW had. “We’ve built our renewable portfolio now to 15 percent and supplemented that with the Holland Energy Park production, which will go a long way to changing our carbon footprint.”


They needed to get a partner on board to provide the major equipment associated with the project. Who could provide a package that met the targets that they were looking at in the SROI model? HBPW liked Siemens Energy not just for the major equipment, but because they were looking for a company that was willing to engage in all aspects of the project. “Siemens brings in expertise not just in gas turbines and steam turbines, but also transformers, switchgear and a number of other products that fit into what we’re doing here in power generation and control systems,” Koster explains.

The plant uses two SGT-800s as gas turbines. Each has a boiler on the back end to capture heat. The heat recovery steam generators produce steam that powers a steam turbine, in Holland’s case an SST-400. Then excess heat is used for the city’s snowmelt system. The water leaves the plant at about 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and comes back at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit; where it is utilized to drive a heat pump at the plant for building heat.

“We either can run one or both gas turbines with the steam turbine, to give us flexibility and reliability in our power output,” Koster explains. Peak power output is around 125 megawatts. Each of the SGT-800s can generate up to 50 megawatts, the steam turbine about 35 megawatts. According to Koster, Holland Energy Park is now the primary resource for the community. “By far, the majority of our electrical demand is served from here, probably close to 65 percent on an annual basis,” he says.


Siemens Energy also supplied a service contract for the gas turbines, a SPPA-T3000 Digital Control System (DCS), Transformers, Medium-Voltage Switchgear, Low-Voltage Switchgear, and Motor Control Centers. Michigan native Liz Galea, Account Manager for Siemens, explains: ”The DCS Omnivise T3000 controls and integrates products in the plant. This increases the amount of information that they are able to gather in real time, which allows them to make real-time decisions,” says Galea. “It is a system that will allow them to change and grow as the plant does.

All the turbines have their own controllers. By installing a control system for the plant that is also by Siemens Energy, the integration has been seamless. It has also worked well with non-Siemens Energy equipment, according to Dave Koster. “It is a very flexible tool. We have integrated all our remote generation. We have other generation not at this facility, but all of it is controlled from here. We have brought in monitoring from our gas pipeline,” Koster explains. The Omnivise T3000 comes with discrete screens for more of a supervisory look. “I can look in my office at what’s happening here. I’m not sure my team likes that, but I like it,” he laughs. In terms of safety and security, Siemens Energy provided a fire system with initiating and indicating devices, as well as an integrated access control solution for the facility.

HBPW is also planning for the energy grid of the future: Within Holland’s manufacturing base, there are lithium ion battery manufacturers. “Some are making batteries for electric vehicles, some for distribution and customer energy storage. We think there is a great opportunity to help promote more electricity usage in our transportation fleet, but also look at how we can integrate with some of those customers and partner with them,” Koster says.

He would like to see vehicles plugged in at night in the community to allow for the plant to be utilized during off-peak times. “We would love to see our customers be able to shave their peak usage by putting in some storage at their site and leveling our load shape,” the manager explains. He says that even before the stakeholder process, HBPW was aware that they needed to raise the electricity literacy level of their customers.

We are engaging the community on their use of electricity in a lot of ways. We have a special team that goes and meets with customers to talk about various incentives that we offer with smart metering.

Dave Koster

General Manager at Holland Board of Public Works


HBPW helps with efficiency, lighting, and insulation improvements and has a number of rebates available to customers. “We also moved legislation forward in the state for municipal providers of electricity, that we could allow customers to finance home energy improvements on their utility bill. So customers can come forward now and make an improvement in their homes, and then the cost of repaying that improvement goes right on their utility bill,” Dave Koster explains. “They don’t have to seek another provider for another source of capital.”

Feedback from the people living in Holland is overwhelmingly positive toward HBPW taking these steps toward cleaner energy. Koster sums it up, and remembers the day that the equipment was shipped through town: “People came out, put their lawn chairs out, and it was like a parade. There was applause, which was very exciting.”

September 22, 2017

Roman Elsener is a business, technology and news journalist.

Picture credits: Todd Winters