Build Back Better for Us: J. Field Reichardt
A lifelong resident of the Grand Haven area, Field Reichardt understands what’s right for his community’s electric energy. Field has been long involved in the Grand Haven community, striving for its best interests, especially issues affecting quality of life.
With the shutdown of the city’s aging coal-fired power plant, Grand Haven’s Board of Light & Power proposed a plan to build a new gas-powered “peaker” plant. The proposed 12.5 megawatt plant, to be used 5-10% of the time, would be built on Harbor Island in the Grand River, a piece of land vulnerable to high water, and the site of both a coal ash storage area and a toxic former city dump.
In late 2019, the Grand Haven City Council had set a goal, for 2020, to find “a community driven” solution to the electricity issue. Reichardt and a group of other citizens pushed for an independent study. When the Council declined, and “punted” the ball to the local utility board, the growing group formed the Grand Haven Energy Organization, to promote the independent review of the plans. The group, including conservatives and liberals, young and old, grew to over 1,400 supporters.
The effort also energized diverse, forward-looking candidates to run for the utility board and for the City Council. The August Primary stunned the community: The newcomers, all of whom favored a new look at the power plant plans, won overwhelming primary margins. Local officials and leaders who had been backing the new plant realized they had underestimated community concern. According to Field, the expectation in the August 16 Council Meeting, a few days after the primary, was a 3-2 Council vote to approve bonding for the plant.
“We were stunned when the council voted 5-0 to request the Board of Light and Power to come up with a new plan,” said Field.
More than 100 people showed up at that council meeting. 27 people, including about 15 young people, addressed the council to express their opposition to the BLP plans. Only three people supported the plans.
The result: The Board of Light and Power is revising their plans, changing their focus from being an energy producer to being an energy distributor.
Field calls the success “a classic people vs. public relations” effort. His message: “It took us a year and a half to turn the big ship away from the shoals. If people care enough about an issue, they can change even the most entrenched opponent’s minds. It took time, It took patience. It took diplomacy. But we did it.”
Now, as the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy (EGLE) has become involved with the city on the environmental problems near the mouth of the Grand River, there are more issues to resolve: protecting Harbor Island, the river itself, and Lake Michigan from further threats of contamination.
Through his years as a political and community activist, Field recognizes the importance of investing in our transportation and clean energy infrastructure and the need for bipartisanship to address climate change. At the center of this belief is the understanding that the threats facing our communities are not partisan issues, but points of common interest that our elected leaders should be working to address, regardless of party affiliation. Field supports investments that will improve the resiliency of our energy grid, enhance renewable energy and energy storage systems, and make transportation more sustainable.
“The United States has only 4% of the population of the planet. Though we need to think globally, we can all act locally to make a difference. We are doing our bit in Grand Haven. So can you!”