In 1995, Daryl Stockberger was faced with a decision that would affect the environmental course of Bowling Green, Ohio for generations. In his eighth year as Utilities Director for the city, Stockberger had an opportunity to push Bowling Green in a direction of “green energy.”

Local governments and municipalities throughout the country had similar decisions, some gradually transitioning toward renewable energy.

Years later, he remembers hearing that renewable energy in Ohio lacked quality. Most communities nearing the millennium sided with conventional wisdom over innovation.

Around the United States, other municipalities with visionaries like Stockberger were realizing that renewable resources would soon become economically feasible for energy projects. Nearly two decades later, Bowling Green has proudly worn its role as one of Ohio’s pioneers in local government energy efficiency.

Today, wind turbines scatter the countryside, thrusting their surfaces above the harsh, Northwest Ohio landscape. Solar panels perch atop the courthouse, hockey rink and other buildings throughout town and horde sunlight like foragers. Bowling Green even owns a significant portion of the Belleville Hydro Plant, a hydroelectric power plant on the Ohio River.

When Stockberger left his post in 2005, renewable resources made up 20 percent of Bowling Green’s energy, he said. Sustainable resources will nearly double to 35 percent in 2015, according to American Municipal Power, an energy facilities operator.

The overall picture of energy in a municipality the size of Bowling Green is larger than most realize.

The city’s acclaimed wind farm, a collection of turbines towering over nearby cornfields, cost around $1 million each, Stockberger said. With initial construction and installation investments taking up the bulk of the price, the turbines begin to pay the investment back over time.

Estimates were unclear as to how many years it would take for the turbines’ returned value to hit their investment, but it may take less time than expected, Stockberger said.

Despite the significant investment and impact the project has made on the community, wind turbines are “not a very large part of the overall power supply,” Stockberger said.

Just how “not very large” was wind energy of the city’s overall resources in 2010? One percent, or one-twentieth of the total amount of Bowling Green’s renewable energy.

“We’ve always had a history of being a proponent of green energy resources,” said Brian O’Connell, Bowling Green’s current utilities director since June 2011.

O’Connell directs the city’s energy and utilities divisions (such as electricity and water) and serves as advisor to the Board of Public Utilities. This group of five citizens, appointed by the mayor, makes ultimate decisions regarding Bowling Green’s energy projects, O’Connell said.

Bowling Green joins 127 communities in seven surrounding states as members of AMP, which develops green projects to sell to their members.

Municipality ownership of projects allows for cheaper costs for citizens, who, in the case of energy, are also customers.

“AMP was formed by engineers in the late 1970s, early ’80s so that municipalities could buy cheaper electric in quantity,” said Mark Triplett, Assistant Superintendent of Galion Electric.

“We buy power the best we can sell it back to the customer for,” he added.

This “strength in numbers” approach, O’Connell contends, provides a stronger outlet for energy opportunities to cities like Bowling Green. AMP members can opt-in to projects they see fit for their community, leaving over 100 other utilities directors like O’Connell and Triplett throughout the Midwest and Appalachia with vastly different choices depending on their municipality.

The variables for approaching a project leave O’Connell and others playing several different roles—as economist (how will this affect the price of power?), as political scientist (how will environmental policies and regulations change or affect this power?) and, in the case of envisioning the project’s success, as soothsayer.

The ultimate goal of energy efficiency helps a community’s environment in a variety of ways, according to an EPA guide on local government energy operations. Such efficiency helps to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and provides municipalities with the independence to make their own energy choices.

In recent years, Bowling Green expanded their energy reach hours south to the Ohio River, buying a portion of the Belleville Hydroelectric Plant. The plant uses the gravitational flow of water to generate hydroelectricity, its power contributing to 10 percent of Bowling Green’s energy in 2010, according to AMP.

The projects can be safe, too—in 2010, the plant received an award for safety excellence by the National Hydropower Association.

While the EPA calls for a national action plan consisting of specific yearly annual goals, Bowling Green has no environmental master plan, O’Connell said.

Ohio Senate Bill 221, however, mandates that 25 percent of the state’s energy must come from alternative energy resources, according to American Electric Power Ohio. Half of this may be generated from advanced energy resources, the bill states.

Between several other hydroelectric projects being constructed along the Ohio River Bowling Green holds stock in and the ever-rotating wind turbines, the impact of green energy continues to grow.

As municipalities gain more energy independence, they allow choices for their citizen customers, too.

An “EcoSmart Choice” developed by AMP and made effective in Bowling Green in 2010 gives citizens the choice to increase their energy bill slightly to provide an amount of green power in the city’s power grid, O’Connell. While the power is not necessarily distributed to their home, the upcharge guarantees payment for renewable energy resources somewhere in Bowling Green, they said.

Bowling Green’s environmental policy has changed dramatically since Stockberger’s helm. Energy is more sustainable. The city’s ownership of renewable resources is rapidly expanding.

O’Connell, finishing his first year as Utilities Director, continues the city’s tradition of pushing for energy with a lessened impact on citizens’ wallets as well as the environment.

A large, aerial portrait of Bowling Green fills the side wall of his downtown Church St. office. The checkerboard fields extend from the city outward into infinity, the farmlands patterned intricately as if by an electrical grid.