new year is shaping up to be mighty green thanks to renewable energy players big and small

Last month, Cleveland's Office of Sustainability kicked off the Year of Advanced and Renewable Energy with an information fair. Beneath the graceful arches of the City Hall rotunda, industry representatives discussed solar energy, natural gas-powered cars and LED lighting.

"If we can shift our energy use to more clean and renewable energy technologies," said Sustainability Chief Jenita McGowan, "we are protecting air quality and water quality in the region, which affects all of us who live here."

The event was part of the city's ongoing 10-year initiative dubbed Sustainable Cleveland 2019 (SC2019), which aims to mark the 50th anniversary of the infamous 1969 Cuyahoga River fire by making Cleveland a "green city on a blue lake" by 2019. Since its 2009 inception, the program has promoted annual drives celebrating topics such as energy efficiency and local foods.

The Year of Advance and Renewable Energy kick-off spanned just one day, but it represented a movement that is making significant inroads in the advancement of energy sustainability for Northeast Ohio. A number of renewable energy systems already are at work at points across the city, with public entities and green-minded businesses leading the way to Cleveland's energy future.

Urban renewable

Based in Independence, Quasar Energy chose Collinwood as home for one of its anaerobic digester plants, which convert organic waste into fuel. Beer, banana peels and cast off frying oil goes in and clean-burning natural gas comes out. And while it might not be fueling a DeLorean-turned-time-machine à la Back to the Future, Quasar's natural gas is fueling the company's plant and fleet of 27 vehicles. Cleveland Public Power (CPP) buys the rest.

"Quasar gets grease from restaurants and food that's been thrown away and different things like that," says CPP's Assistant Commissioner Christine Leyda. "They work with Ohio State and study what type of content is best to speed the process up and create electricity." It's a natural fit for CPP, which has committed to having 20 percent of its power come from renewable sources by 2020.

Founded in 2006, Quasar has built eight such facilities across the state and employs 60 people.

If Quasar can turn trash into fuel amid the gritty streets of Collinwood, it's no stretch that the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) can transform six acres of undesirable brownfield in the Kinsman neighborhood into a vibrant farm of the alternative sort. Last month, the organization flipped the switch on more than 4,200 solar panels at the site.

"They'll produce about one megawatt of energy annually," notes CMHA Sustainability Manager Larry Davis, "which is enough to power 100 medium-sized homes."

Shaker Heights-based energy project management firm Carbon Vision designed, built and will manage the solar array. Through a 20-year, three-way agreement with Carbon Vision, CPP will purchase all of the harvested power and CMHA will enjoy discounted power rates.

"This is cutting-edge technology in an urban environment," says Davis. "I don't know where else you're going to go to find something like this. To me, it's a treasure and we need to put the word out that something like this is happening in Cleveland."

Turning a blue lake green

Although humans have been harnessing the wind for centuries, the United States still doesn't have a single offshore wind farm. But if the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo.) has anything to do about it, that's about to change.

The company's Project Icebreaker would bring between five and nine wind turbines to Lake Erie, which would be situated about seven miles northwest of downtown. Each three-megawatt turbine would rise approximately 450 feet from the water to the zenith of the blades -- about twice the height of the Valley View bridge.

The U.S. Department of Energy awarded LEEDCo a $4 million grant last year to proceed with the development of Project Icebreaker. The company has a year to submit a plan and compete with six other projects for as much as $47 million to proceed with realization. If Project Icebreaker is chosen, Clevelanders could be admiring the massive pinwheels as early as 2016. (see LEEDCo article)

"It's a tough project all the way around, mostly because it's never been done in the U. S., but our prospects are excellent," says LEEDCo President Lorry Wagner. "We've got a tremendous team. Four of our partners have built offshore wind projects in Europe. We've got some great local talent. We've got the project management firm [PMC] that's building the Med Mart and the Flats East Bank. We're feeling very good about it."

Despite the mammoth size, the turbine cluster would merely be a prototype designed to introduce offshore wind energy to the region, says Wagner. A viable wind farm would include between 50 and 100 turbines positioned 10 to 15 miles offshore and tickle the clouds when the massive blades reach their highest point of nearly 500 feet.

But will Clevelanders be intimidated? Wagner doesn't think so.

"If you look what's happened around the world, wind turbines have become destinations," he says. "Each turbine will have its own little eco-system that grows at the base," says Wagner, adding that they attract fish, and in turn, fisherman. "Many countries have created places for boaters to tie up by the turbines. Then you start to think about the sailboats; now they have another pylon to sail around."

Sustainability minded renovation

While the proposed wind turbines in Lake Erie are awfully big, some smaller projects are helping local businesses stay green and trim their utility bills.

Mitchell's Ice Cream soon will relocate from Rocky River to Ohio City, where they currently are renovating a century-old building into new headquarters, production area and retail space. Among the energy saving features is a 15,000-watt rooftop solar array that will power ultra high-efficiency LED and fluorescent lighting. In winter, exhaust from the industrial freezers will help heat the building. New skylights and windows will utilize the most renewable energy source of all—the sun.

"Our carbon footprint will be satisfyingly low," says owner Mike Mitchell.

Add insulation, a heat-deflecting white roof, high-tech windows and a storm water collection system that will supply gray water to the low-flow toilets and suddenly, the old Rialto Theater is starting to look decidedly modern.

"We're getting an education about what it means to build a sustainable building, about what it means to encourage sustainability in the community, and what it means to be a catalyst for the people," says Mitchell. "We've been working on this building for 17 months. It's been a great ride."

And one that respects the past. A web of stalwart structural beams will serve as a stunning visual centerpiece in the new facility, and the old-time marquee will announce seasonal ice cream flavors beneath the message "Now Serving." (For those wondering what's next, it's Irish Whiskey Butter Toffee, just in time for St. Patrick's Day.)

Leave it to the Mitchell brothers to make renewable energy so easy to swallow.

Photos Bob Perkoski

Erin O'Brien
Erin O'Brien

About the Author: Erin O'Brien

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit for complete profile information.