Emboldened by his city's remarkably swift progress toward satisfying 20 percent of its municipal power demand with clean renewable energy sources, Mayor George Heartwell today publicly wondered why the City of Grand Rapids shouldn't pursue a strategy to completely end its dependence on coal and other irreplaceable fuel sources in an effort to advance more sustainable development, spur new jobs, and modernize the local economy for the 21st century.
"Why shouldn't the [green energy] goal for the second largest city in the State of Michigan be 100 percent," Mayor Heartwell told more than 300 attendees at a wind power convention on the campus of Michigan State University. "If municipal government demands increasing levels of renewable power for the sake of all our citizens, then won't residential consumers and industry follow. And won't that demand drive both public policy and innovation."
Ben Larson, a field organizer for the Union of Concerned Scientist's Clean Energy Program, said such an ambitious goal is "certainly possible" through a combination of strategies that would include purchasing renewable energy credits.
But Mr. Larson was not immediately aware of any elected official or U.S. state setting the bar so high in the push to promote green energy. Several states have enacted or are considering policies that call for 15, 20, or maybe 25 percent green power generation.
He also said Mayor Heartwell's bold stance ultimately could help elevate popular support for energy innovation and help move a more modern energy policy forward in both Michigan and Washington, D.C., where a limited number of members from the Michigan delegation support a proposal to increase energy efficiency and innovation standards.
Efforts to promote energy policy innovation in Michigan continue to progress slower than a Beverly Hillbillies brainstorming session, too. Critics argue, among other things, that mandates to promote green power will drive up electricity costs for consumers, weaken the power grid, and kill jobs.
But a growing number of proponents contend that energy innovation is essential to the economic, environmental, and well-being of cities, states, and the nation as a whole. Mayor Heartwell has consistenly stood on the cutting edge of this emerging movement.
In his 2005 State of the City Address, Mayor Heartwell announced his administration would begin to wean Grand Rapids off dirty, nonrenewable fuel sources like coal and begin to demand and purchase energy from landfills, wind mills, and other alternatives. By 2008, the mayor promised, 20 percent of the city's energy would come from green power.
"We will meet this goal almost one year ahead of schedule," Mayor Heartwell said today.
Hence the new and much more ambitious goal of 100 percent green power. Mayor Heartwell said little about how he intends to achieve the goal. He also stopped short of putting a timeframe on when he'd like to meet the new challenge.
But he made it clear that he believes the very pursuit of the goal will ultimately help his city and state protect the environment, generate high tech jobs in a knowledge economy, and spur new wealth in the modern era.
"The greatest fortunes that America has ever known were made in energy," the mayor said, reminding the crowd of industrialist John D. Rockefeller, who revolutionized the pertroleum business. "The geniuses who invent the formulas to more efficiently capture the energy of the wind, the water, and the sunlight will not only provide enormous good for the world. They will be rewarded handsomely for having done it."