West Side district goes tech savvy


The West Side is set to become a hub of new energy technology through a partnership between Rockford Construction and Consumers Energy.

Circuit West, as the project has been dubbed, will be a neighborhood meant to test, implement and showcase new technologies in sustainable and renewable energy. The neighborhood will include power through solar panels, utility battery storage and electric vehicle charging stations, as well as extra bandwidth for communications and internet. Utility lines also will be placed underground for aesthetics.

The neighborhood will be implemented in an approximately 10-block area of the West Side, including the new Meijer development on Bridge Street and Seward Avenue. Rockford Construction and Consumers Energy did not disclose any investment amounts for the project.

The added emphasis in energy technologies and infrastructure on the West Side could lead to additional business investment and job creation in the area, said Mike VanGessel, Rockford Construction CEO.

“Our vision is to provide a safe, innovative, sustainable neighborhood on the West Side that is a magnet for people and commerce,” VanGessel said. “This part of Grand Rapids is growing quickly, and we are excited to have a hand in bringing the latest technology and renewable energy to this side of the city.”

VanGessel said Circuit West is a continuation of Rockford Construction’s mission of making a difference, which began with the headquarters’ LEED Platinum certification when the company moved in 2013.

Since Rockford Construction’s relocation to the West Side, VanGessel noted its developments and tenants are buying into the community mindset.

“Most important to us was to look at how do we lead in the effort and makes us different in what we’re doing,” he said. “We were the first general contractor in Michigan to have a Platinum LEED building. Rockford’s vision is to provide a safe, sustainable and innovative neighborhood.”

Circuit West will be one of the first utilities in the Midwest to store renewable energy in batteries for future use, said Garrick Rochow, Consumers Energy senior vice president of operations. The battery facility is planned to be across Seward Avenue from the Rockford Construction headquarters.

Rochow said Consumer Energy’s innovative mindset in energy began in 1906 with hydroelectricity, and the company still operates 13 hydroelectric facilities today. The energy innovation continued in 2016 with the launch of the Solar Gardens at Grand Valley State University.

“All of this led to today’s announcement as we are working harder and smarter to position the state for success,” Rochow said. “We are setting the precedent of how we look at the electrical grid of the future. We’re embracing future opportunities, bringing technology together to design, test and deploy across the broader power grid.

“We know it’s important to be thinking about the power grid of the future. This is that starting point.”

Along with new forms of energy production and storage, Consumers Energy also will work on the enhancement of data and grid analysis, Rochow said.

Circuit West’s experimentation is expected to help lower the utility bills of residents and businesses, Gorchow said. He said the neighborhood will help reduce water use, lower air emissions and save land space.

“This is a significant step, and we’re excited to see where it takes us,” he said.

Despite its location on the West Side, Circuit West is expected to have a ripple effect on the rest of the downtown area and help the city accomplish its many sustainability goals, Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said.

“An energy district like Circuit West is a critical component to a sustainable Grand Rapids and creates a bridge for further development opportunities while meeting the needs of a rapidly growing community,” Bliss said.

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