September 24, 2017
9 min read

When technology touches society

In Holland, Michigan a new power plant is helping to improve urban life. A showcase for economically, socially and environmentally responsible urban infrastructure planning: the Holland Energy Park.

The power of the plant

Situated at the eastern gateway of the town, Holland Energy Park illustrates the benefits of bringing vital technological infrastructure right into society: with its CHP technology, snowmelt system and visitor center, the new power plant does much more than just keep the lights on.

Energizing the community

In 2011, Holland conceived an innovative Community Energy Plan to act as a guideline for securing a reliable and independent power supply far into the future. Consequently, when planning for a new power station, Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW), a community-owned power supplier, took into account environmental, health and social implications. Communication via Facebook, YouTube, mailings or expert presentations kept citizens in the loop from day one. The result is an outstanding project which has brought the community closer together, securing HBPW’s place at the heart of the city.

Dave Koster, General Manager HBPW

What inspired you to take such a holistic approach?

Initially, we were just talking about modernizing the existing coal-powered plant. Turns out there was definitely no appetite for more coal power on a state level. There was a real conflict of interest – yes, we could appreciate where they were coming from but at the same time we wanted to maintain our snowmelt system and the intangibles attached to having coal, such as ships coming into Holland etc. Eventullay we said: let’s step back a bit and look at the whole thing holistically. There must be a way to solve this problem. And that’s when the idea of a Sustainable Return of Investment (SROI) analysis came into play. One of our engineers suggested it.

How did the SROI affect your decision-making process?

It was quite amazing. In the process of the SROI we looked at everything, we looked at coal, at natural gas, at renewables and even at buying power from the grid. On top of this, we also took into consideration the mostly intangible impacts on the community. We looked at the economic, environmental, financial and social impact of each possible solution. We involved all the community stakeholders in the discussion. In the end, the initial conflict surrounding the project just kind of fell away as the SROI uncovered the best solution to go forward.

What are your expectations for the visitor center and new park around the plant?

I have to say we are especially excited about the visitor center at Holland Energy Park. Siemens Energy has been very active in helping to make the center as educational as possible: we have explanatory videos as well as proper exhibits which people can touch and feel. Visitors will learn about smart energy decisions made in and for the community. They can take away ideas about how to use energy wisely at home which will cut costs for them and improve their quality of life. As for the walking trails in the new park, I think they will be an attractive destination for residents.

What are the specific benefits you expect from HBPW from this project?

Our number one priority, of course, is to supply the community with reliable, clean and affordable energy. This we have definitely achieved. We can also offer an extended snowmelt system and eventually even district heating. But there are other aspects to this particular project: because of the close involvement of the community, people understood that we are working with, and not against citizens. When big parts for the plant are transported through town you might expect people to try and stop the convoy, to protest by sitting on the road. This time, it was more like a parade; people got their deckchairs out and were cheering the equipment along. It can’t hurt a company to project such a positive image.

Boosting a city’s quality of life

A new attractive gateway into the city, the Holland Energy Park does much to improve the quality of citizens’ lives. Less harmful emissions, more recreational walking trails and a snowmelt system all have a positive impact on business and everyday life.

Quality time in a quality environment

The Holland Energy Park goes much further than simply securing power supply for the city: this is a project which has been designed to benefit everyone now and in the future, inviting citizens to come out and enjoy the park or learn about power generation. Perks include direct access to a scenic waterfront and plenty of lawns to play on.

Intelligent infrastructure for a thriving community

“As a community, we decided that upgrading the power supply was not just about putting up a plant. It was about a culture of maintaining responsibility for our city and for society at large. Getting this project off the ground was really a generational experience, bringing everyone together. We now have reliable and cleaner power with 50% less CO2 emissions. Plus, there’s the new Energy Park to be enjoyed by everyone. The park is good for the future of our city: businesses like it, the community likes it and the stakeholders like it. In fact, I get approached by other cities who want to know how we’ve done it. Working with Siemens Energy has been a real bonus: It’s been a world class partnership with a world class company.”

Nancy de Boer, Mayor of Holland, Michigan

Simply good for business

"Holland is a little bit of a town that punches above its weight  it’s pretty small, but it has great retail and a solid community, it has a lot to offer. When they first started building the new power plant I was a bit skeptical, but now I have to say: it really is smart infrastructure at its best. The surrounding park makes for an impressive eastern gateway and the plant’s efficiency allows for an extended snowmelt system. I cannot tell you how important this system is for my business: even in January or February there aren’t any slack times. Customers can easily walk around without struggling through snow or sludge. I know for a fact that other communities are jealous of it."

Bob Schulze, Globe Design & Vision, Business Owner, Michigan

Our technology paves the way for cities of the future

Worldwide, Siemens Energy has worked with countless communities on smart power generation projects.

200 cities are Siemens Energy sustainable (urban) infrastructure partners

The Holland Energy Park with its Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant technology is a perfect showcase for the synergies resulting from close, long-term cooperation and a mutually trusting relationship.

With ambitious plans to turn the new power plant into a world class facility, HBPW chose Siemens Energy as an industry partner: “We had worked together before and they suspected we could bring the necessary innovation to the project and they knew the quality would fit”, remembers Account Manager Liz Galea. With a highly efficient CHP plant, Holland was supplied with a state-of-the-art solution that now sits at the center of a major urban regeneration project.

Projects like this require intense cooperation and coordination: Liz Galea’s responsibility as Account Manager is to keep progress smooth and communication efficient; she’s the single point of contact for the customer, a kind of general manager who keeps a cool head in all situations and who knows the right people inside of Siemens Energy to turn to at all times.

“An extremely large team of Siemens Energy experts worked behind the scenes to create the best solution and to provide the blueprint for legal and administrative questions”, explains Galea. “A local team made sure the cooperation with overseas suppliers went smoothly. Also, in a continuous process, the customer’s hard points were defined and applied across some of the production lines.”

Liz Galea, Account Manager, responsible for the HEP project

The project showed the power that we can have when product lines and divisions work together to create “one team” for customers.

Liz Galea

Account Manager, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Far from being just a supplier in the background, we got actively involved in supporting the visitor center, was present at ground breaking ceremonies and advertised the project widely. Inside the company the project got a lot of recognition, which Liz is certain helped to make it a success.

As Account Manager, Liz Galea followed the project from initiation through construction and implementation. Liz especially enjoyed the process of working closely with the customer from before any ground had even been broken, discovering new aspects of the project as they went along and together shaping the future of sustainable urban infrastructure in Holland.

Read more in The Magazine: An energy park for the future, built today