|By Tom Daykin, Milwaukee Journal
SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 03, 2011--DELAVAN -- When it opens next year, the Green Leaf Inn in rural Delavan will claim a unique selling point as the nation's only hotel that generates as much energy as it uses.
The 19-room Green Leaf Inn will use a wind turbine, geothermal energy and solar power to produce electricity, warm and cool air and hot water, say its owners, Fritz Kreiss and Catherine McQueen. Its carbon footprint? Nonexistent.
Green Leaf will boast other environmentally sustainable features, including a 30,000-gallon underground tank to store rainwater used for filling toilets and watering the landscape; its own wastewater treatment system; a charging station for battery-powered cars; and suites with energy systems that automatically shut down when guests leave.
Located on state Highway 50 about 4 miles east of Delavan, the inn will target couples looking for romantic and relaxing getaways. Green Leaf will offer hot tubs in every suite, upscale furnishings and extensive gardens.
But the inn will appeal especially to people who are environmentally conscious, say Kreiss and McQueen, a husband-and-wife entrepreneurial team.
"They can just come and relax," McQueen said. "Or, they can learn so much about green living. .â€‰.â€‰. You can live a luxurious life and still be gentle to the planet."
More travelers want to stay at hotels that emphasize sustainability, Kreiss said.
At travelgreenwisconsin.com, operated by the state Department of Tourism, there's information on an increasing number of Wisconsin businesses that appeal to eco-conscious travelers. The website includes a list of 150 lodging properties, including resorts, hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, motels, cabins and cottages, that have achieved the department's minimum score for "green" features, said Lisa Marshall, department spokeswoman.
Pinehurst Inn in Bayfield holds the tourism department's highest score for green lodging.
Pinehurst offers five guest rooms in a house built in 1886, along with three rooms in a separate building that opened in 2003. Its sustainable features include solar panels to heat the water, breakfasts made from locally grown foods and reusable stainless steel water bottles for inn guests. Co-owner Steve Sandstrom said a survey showed that 60% of Pinehurst's guests mentioned the inn's sustainable focus as an important factor in deciding to stay there.
"Last year was the best year we've had in the 15 years we've owned the business," said Sandstrom, who operates Pinehurst with his wife, Nancy.
Gravitating toward green
Eco-focused hotels represent a small portion of the nation's lodging industry.
As of March, only 91 hotels and other lodging properties had won Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, with another 1,100 lodging properties seeking certification, according to the council. The LEED program awards varying levels of certification based on a series of sustainable design, construction and operating standards.
There are more than 52,600 U.S. lodging properties with 15 or more rooms, according to information compiled by Smith Travel Research for the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
But even conventional hotel operators are acting to save resources -- and money. Many hotels now ask guests who are staying more than one night to request new towels and bed sheets rather than routinely changing and washing them.
Other tactics include installing low-flow shower heads, using energy-efficient appliances and making free newspapers available in the lobby instead of delivering them to each room, the hotel association says. About 35% of hotel operators who responded to an association survey last year are working toward obtaining that group's green certification, which is less stringent than the LEED program.
Association officials are unaware of any U.S. hotels that generate as much energy as they use, an idea known as net-zero energy, said Tamika Figgs, the group's research manager.
For Kreiss, installing solar panels and other energy-efficient technology is just part of his day job.
A former high school physics teacher and home renovator, Kreiss operates Alternative Utility Services Inc., a consulting firm that helps businesses buy energy services, as well as Community Green Energy LLC, which promotes renewable energy. Both firms are based in Lake Geneva.
Kreiss, who grew up in suburban Chicago, and McQueen, who's originally from New Jersey, moved to rural Walworth County in 1998 from Evanston, Ill. They bought and remodeled an old farmhouse on 5 acres, happy to be in a peaceful location.
"It was just going to be our little piece of paradise," McQueen said.
That notion changed several years later when they learned the state Department of Transportation had long-range plans to widen Highway 50, which runs in front of their home, to four lanes. At first, they thought about selling the house in favor of something more remote. But the couple realized they wouldn't see a return on their investment because of the extensive renovations they had done.
So Kreiss and McQueen turned to the idea of creating Green Leaf.
From home to hotel
Their four-bedroom home, from which they're about to move, will be converted into three suites, a dining area, commercial kitchen and laundry. A second building, with 16 suites and a small meeting room, will be built on the property.
The first phase, including the home conversion, installation of the underground water storage tank and energy-generating equipment, will begin by late summer or early fall, with New Berlin-based Anderson Ashton Inc. serving as the design-build contractor. That part of the project will be done this winter, and Kreiss and McQueen might begin renting out rooms at that time.
Work on the 16-room building is to begin next spring, if financing is secured by then, Kreiss said. The goal is to have all 19 rooms open by the end of 2012.
The first phase will cost around $1.5 million, all coming from funds saved up by the couple. The second phase, costing up to $3 million, will require a bank loan of up to $2.5 million. Kreiss and McQueen have been talking to lenders.
The project received zoning approval from the Walworth County Board two years ago. Kreiss and McQueen had hoped to begin construction sooner, but found it was impossible to get a bank loan. Since then, an improving economy has lenders showing a willingness to consider financing for the project, they said.
Meanwhile, the couple in 2011 installed a wind turbine, financed in part through a $100,000 Focus on Energy grant, on their property to prepare for the hotel. Alliant Energy is buying its power.
Other green touches will include tile, flooring and wall coverings made from recycled materials, and wooden furniture crafted from trees chopped down on the property to make way for the new building.
Along with couples, Green Leaf is expected to attract small groups seeking a pastoral atmosphere for meetings and events.
While the Chicago and Milwaukee areas will generate the most business, Kreiss and McQueen believe Green Leaf Inn's unusual story could draw guests who wouldn't otherwise come to southeastern Wisconsin.
"I think we'll pull people from other spots around the country," Kreiss said.
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Copyright (c) 2011, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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