Undercover Green: Energy Efficiency in Unlikely Places

REGION – One of the first pieces of mail Alan "AJ" James opened when he hired on as director of Kalkaska's Kaliseum was the recreational complex's electric bill. What he saw was a dollar sign, followed by a lot of numbers. He says his heart immediately sank. "I thought, 'There's no way I can bring enough people through the front door to pay for this.'"

James found financial relief in an unlikely place: about thirty feet above his head. In February, Springfield Roofing installed Orion solar tubes, and James turned off the facility's electric lights for the last time – during daylight hours at least. After the $55,000 upgrade, the facility needs no electric lighting during the daytime for the pool or the ice rink. And, James doesn't dread the monthly electric bill quite so much now that it's several thousand dollars smaller. In fact, it looks like the project may pay for itself in the single year since it was installed.

Terry Jo Umlor of Springfield calls the solar lighting tubes "skylights on steroids" because of the quality of light they let in. Springfield has also installed them at The Rock, a teen community center in Kingsley, and sees great potential for the product throughout northern Michigan.

Another solar system that will not just light the building but actually generate its own electricity is planned in another unlikely place: the soon-to-be constructed parking deck on Eighth Street in Traverse City. Administrator Gil Rupp says a state-of-the-art photovoltaic system will be installed on the top of the new building about four to five feet above the top floor. A Detroit company, Colasanti Construction Services, will install the system at the deck, which is expected to be open by early September, if not before.

Practicality, and a willingness to be environmentally conscious, was at the heart of the decision to go solar, Rupp says.

"Because of the unknown factor of what is going to happen to electric rates and how TC Light and Power is going to go – whether biomass or more wind or other sources, we made various studies of what exactly could help us save over the costs at the Hardy deck. This was one of the things that stood out."

The system will provide electricity for lighting and equipment, but not for the deck's elevators due to regulations for emergency power. The curious can see an illustration of the system on the color billboard at the deck's future location, 129 Eighth Street.

"We want to show that the city is willing to expend ideas and cost to help show developers that come to our area that these things can work, and that there are real cost savings," says Rupp. This will be the first time the system has ever been installed in a parking deck, though it has been used in many other commercial applications.

"Green" practices are hiding in plain sight here in some other unlikely places, too. Eastfield Laundry, near the intersection of Eighth St. and Garfield Ave. won a "Going Green" Award from Corp! magazine after owner Jim Legato replaced older, inefficient washers and dryers with new energy efficient equipment, and then removed the old lighting and replaced it with LED lighting. In addition, he started requiring staff to recycle all plastics and asked customers to pitch in, too. A solar energy hot-water heating system is in the future. The company had already switched over to its own all-natural detergent in 2006.

So, if laundromats can be "green," can a dry cleaning shop? In light of all the chemicals traditionally used in the cleaning, steaming, pressing, and bagging process, you might think not. But in Petoskey, Northern Michigan Garment Restoration is one of the few restoration companies in the region that uses the Green Earth process to take what could be a waste producing practice and make it greener. The company is a dry cleaner that specializes in restoring and cleaning clothes, furniture and accessories after a fire or flood. Despite the intensity of the clothing damage the company deals with, it uses no hazardous chemicals like perchloroethylene – a longtime standard in the dry cleaning industry, which has been banned in California – and no petroleum. Instead, liquefied sand is used to remove stains and odors, eliminating any risk to air, water or soil.

"It's the same natural sand the earth has been creating for over six billion years," says Manager Dave Wolf. "It's clear, odorless and gentle."

Considering your own "green" business investment and looking for financing? Lenders might not be the first business you think of when the word "green" is tossed around but one local company specializes in just that. Modern Commercial Capital has a variety of custom financing solutions for renewable energy technology purchases such as wind and/or solar, and can also give you updates on the tax advantages, energy credits, and Recovery and Reinvestment Act provisions for each. Other qualifying purchases include geothermal, hydropower, micro turbine, and combined heat and power system facilities, according to financier and Modern Commercial Capital CEO, Bill Policastro.

"We look at it like this: energy conversion helps businesses achieve energy independence and greatly reduces the costs of operations."

Adam James agrees. "I'm not necessarily a green, environmental type of guy, I'm an efficiency type of guy, and if I can get power free from the sun, and drastically cut my costs, why wouldn't I do it?" BN