On a hot August day in 2006, Peter M. Wege had the honor of cutting a big red ribbon to open the newly rebuilt East Grand Rapids Library and City Hall on Reeds Lake. The privilege was Peter’s not only for his generous financial support, but also for his prodding the city to build according to environmental protocols. The remodeled City Complex is now been officially declared LEED certified by the United States Green Building Council.
The Wege Foundation’s generosity and vision enabled the city to make great environmental strides. The Foundation helped fund the reuse of a long-empty water reservoir by turning it into handsome offices and recreation rooms overlooking the lake. The top of the old cement reservoir became the city’s first green roof, thanks to Peter. And the Foundation gave East Grand Rapids a water-filter system that cleans up the business district’s dirty storm water before it flows into Reeds Lake.
In the midst of the ribbon-cutting festivities that August morning, Peter Wege asked EGR’s City Manager Brian Donovan why the new complex didn’t have solar panels. The surprised city manager answered that the remodeling budget simply didn’t have the money for them. The other part of that reply was that The Wege Foundation had already done so much for the new building, the city was not about to ask for more funds to do solar panels.
“Well, you need solar here,” Peter said pointing at the library. And on the spot, as he often does, he said, “Order the panels and we’ll pay for them.”
By April 2008, the solar panels were installed and the sun’s free energy was already helping run the East Grand Rapids Library and City Complex. The attached photo shows the two kinds of solar panels: the flat, film version are seen in the back on the roof and the blue, angled panels at the front of the picture. The city estimates that the free sun power will provide 3% of the electricity this complex uses in a year. It could go higher as in the first month of going operational, the solar panels provided 5% of the electricity needed.
As important as the energy savings is to Peter Wege, the learning opportunity these solar panels provide means just as much to him. He and his foundation have always been about educating people, especially children. The picture here shows Terri McCarthy, V.P. of Programs for The Wege Foundation, explaining the solar monitor in the EGR Library to sisters Daisy and Pixie Brown.
By touching the monitor’s screen, students and adults can follow the daily and hourly progress of how much free sun energy is helping power the building they are in, thus reducing the amount of fossil fuel consumed. The monitor also calculates how much global-warming carbon dioxide is not going into the air because the sun’s energy has no chemical emissions.
By putting the kiosk monitor right inside the EGR Library’s entrance, the hope is that library patrons will get in the habit of checking on how much clean energy is getting used that day—and, consequently, how many of their tax dollars are being saved on the city’s lowered electric bills!