Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Continued Pressure on BLP Needed to Save Grand Haven

 Below is my column in today's edition of the Grand Haven Tribune

Christians are a people of resurrection. This Wednesday in Easter week, just a few days after the Day of the Resurrection itself, that should be clearer to us than ever. We are a people who believe God is at working bringing new life out of the death of this world—and that we are called to be a part of that work.

There are some people in Grand Haven trying to do that work right now with Harbor Island, the power plant that used to exist there, and the Board of Light and Power. Unfortunately, they are still not truly being heard. Our community is not being heard. 

Like many residents, I was glad to see the J.B. Sims coal-fired power plant retired in 2020. It was no longer economically advantageous and it was far behind the cleaner energy generation options available today. As a Christian who believes God has given us stewardship over creation—a stewardship we have often squandered as we have been complicit in violence against creation. Climate change is an increasingly pressing reality around the world, with the effects of climate change having particularly negative impacts on the lives of the poorest in our world. We must do better.

The Board of Light and Power (BLP) wants to construct a natural-gas fired plant to supplement the grid and the power needs of the city of Grand Haven. However, as one of my fellow community columnists, Mike Troupos, noted earlier this year, this is an economically-questionable decision because the plant only works economically if it functions for thirty years and it is rather unlikely, given the pace of change and regulation when it comes to power production, that a natural-gas fired plant will be desirable in another decade and certainly not in another two. 

BLP Vice-Chairman Gerry Witherell, an advocate for the current plan, has touted how in the current practice of only managing energy distribution, they have not had to reduce any employees. That makes the rush to construct another fossil-fuel plant even more head-scratching to me. 

Thankfully, the Grand Haven Energy Organization (GHEO) has been putting increasing pressure on the BLP and the City Council to re-think this plan, to pause and get more community input. Witherell insists that we need to move forward with the plan, but former City Councilman Josh Brugger in his own letter to the Tribune offered a sensible middle-of-the road plan to ensure distribution and continuing to run the snowmelt boiler without issuing roughly $45million in bonds to finance a fossil-fuel burning plant on some of the best real estate the city owns. 

There is currently a petition being circulated by GHEO (you can sign it at urging City Council to delay this decision, to request that there be an objective and independent study of the plan and that the results of that study be made publicly available. Furthermore, a collection of youth activists are urging the creation of a Community Sustainability Plan before moving froward with the proposed Harbor Island project. Surely, in 2021, there are better ways to meet the energy demands of Grand Haven than burning more fossil fuels and doing more damage to the environment. Their last petition garnered 250 signatures and didn’t move the needle. In fact, instead of listening the BLP is now spending nearly $50k to hire a public relations firm that can convince the community their plan is a good idea. The residents of this city must demand change.

We live in one of the most beautiful cities in the State of Michigan. We also know, living so close to the lake, how dependent we are upon the nature around us life, how much climate change can adversely affect our city. We know the power and beauty of the dunes and the detrimental effect upon all aspects of the ecological system when they are battered. Coastal scientist Charles Shabica told NPR in a 2019 story that the warmer atmosphere from climate change will result in more intense storms causing even more erosion and damage to structures along the shore. The City of Grand Haven should be leading the way in combating climate change, making smart decisions for power generation and doing everything we possibly can to reduce the effects of climate change and save our city. 

But nothing will change unless we continue to put pressure on those in leadership to step back from this plan, truly engage the community, and come up with a science-driven solution that will lead us into a safer and healthier twenty-first century.  

The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at