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MOORHEAD – Once the old power plant here is knocked down, two new community-based projects will take its place, harnessing the energy of the sun and the local arts scene.
City and area arts leaders are proposing two “gardens” to bloom in place of the power plant, once it’s demolished toward the end of June – a community solar panel garden and an artistic “defiant garden,” which would include an outdoor amphitheater on the south side of Woodlawn Park.
The defiant garden, which would feature machinery salvaged from the power plant displayed like sculptures, has been in the works for some time, with the help of the Plains Art Museum and Concordia College.
Colleen Sheehy, the museum’s director and CEO, hopes the area becomes a gathering place for the community.
“It is one of the most beautiful places in our metro area,” Sheehy said. “There are beautiful sunsets you can watch from that site, right on the river, and it connects to the walking paths and the biking paths.”
The defiant garden should begin to take shape this summer, Sheehy said, after the power plant is gone. The solar panels are tentatively scheduled to go up in early 2015.
Both projects are on the agenda for discussion at the Moorhead Public Service Commission meeting today at 4:30 p.m.
Defiant garden plans
The defiant garden would utilize the earthen levee on the south side of Woodlawn Park, turning the rolling hill into terraced seating.
“We’ll create an earthen stage that could be used for outdoor concerts or maybe movies in the park, and with that kind of bowl shape of the hillside, it just can create a natural amphitheater,” Sheehy said.
Engineering experts have been consulted to make sure the design doesn’t affect the stability of the dike, Sheehy said.
Concrete pedestals, meant to resemble the footings of old buildings like the power plant, will stand throughout the garden, displaying the salvaged machinery.
A “legacy garden” featuring donated perennials from residents is also planned. Audio recordings will be taken along with the plants, and passersby in the park can scan a QR code with their smartphone to learn about the history of each plant, Sheehy said.
While the community had once hoped to renovate the century-old power plant building, geotechnical analysis in late 2012 found a portion of the building was slowly slumping into the Red River.
“We all actually really love the building, so we’re kind of sad to see it come down. We realize the pragmatism of having to take it down,” Sheehy said. “It’ll be great to have something that will remind people of an important building that was there for so long.”
Solar garden proposed
Moorhead Public Service has a plan to replace the old power plant with another kind of community space – a shared solar panel “garden.”
It would be a collection of solar panels that could be leased by MPS customers, reducing their monthly electric bills and improving the city’s use of renewable energy, said Bill Schwandt, MPS general manager.
It would also allow apartment renters or homeowners with consistently shady roofs to be able to take advantage of solar power, Schwandt said.
Some might recall the MPS “Capture the Wind” program, which ran from 1999 to 2010 and allowed customers better access to wind power via MPS’ two turbines north of town.
MPS is working on trademarking “Capture the Sun” for this new project, Schwandt said.
The initial goal is to have about 20-25 kilowatts of solar power built on the power plant site, which is about 80 total panels that could be leased. The site has about 200 kW of solar potential, so more panels could be added in the future, Schwandt said.
Details of the project are still being hammered out, but customers would likely sign a 20-year lease and invest about $600 up front, which would cover the cost of the panel. There would be a small, monthly administrative fee to help with maintenance.
Customers who invest in a solar panel would see a credit to their electricity bill, Schwandt said. Any solar energy used would be directly deducted from their monthly bill.
“One panel is not going to produce a whole lot, so it’s a few dollars a month savings for people, but it is savings,” Schwandt said. “Probably the biggest benefit they get is they’re doing something renewable, and they’re pitching in to help the environment.”
The utility estimated the project would cost less than $100,000, according to a memo from Schwandt.
MPS will also be in talks with the arts community to make the solar arrays into another public art project. Artists could be commissioned to paint murals on the concrete poles that hold up the solar panels.
“Something to make it so that people would enjoy adopting their solar array,” Schwandt said.
MPS plans to hold a public meeting in the fall to answer questions and gauge interest. Another meeting will be held in early 2015 to sign customers up for the program.
Construction on the solar array is tentatively set for spring of 2015 and would take a month or two.
City officials once hoped to redevelop the plant site once the old building was torn down. Schwandt said that’s still a possibility.
“They (the solar panels) could be moved without too much trouble,” he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518
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Article source: http://www.inforum.com/event/article/id/431494/