Lincoln Park could get a new landmark later this year if community support comes through to help plant a solar garden.
A 40-kilowatt solar panel array is planned for the grassy space between Michigan Street and Interstate 35 at the eastern entrance to the neighborhood. A quarter of the power will be dedicated to veterans, while the rest will help low-income residents who may be struggling with energy bills.
"We should be able to help 500 families, which is huge," said Shannon Laing, director of partnership development at Ecolibrium3, which is leading the project.
More than a source of energy and financial relief for some folks, it could also be a source of pride for the neighborhood.
"We want people to drive by and go, 'Wow, what's going on here?'" Laing said. "We can start shifting gears about how people think about Duluth."
Minnesota Power is covering about half the estimated cost of the project with a $95,000 grant as part of the utility's low-income solar pilot program.
"We really ask for community members to bring forward their ideas and maybe think beyond what might be a traditional approach to getting solar to low-income customers," said Tina Koecher, manager of customer experience operations with Minnesota Power."
As with most solar installations, the power will be delivered directly to the grid, with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans and qualifying low-income residents benefiting from the energy produced.
Over a 25-year expected lifespan, Ecolibrium3 says that should mean about $300,000 in energy bill assistance.
"Low-income families in crisis may be able to access the fund to avoid utility disconnection, which is often the first step toward housing condemnation and homelessess," the group said.
The Lincoln Park project would be Minnesota Power's second low-income solar pilot program if a feasibility study finds the site can support the solar garden, which Koecher said is likely. The first project, a 14.4 kilowatt array, sits atop the American Indian Community Housing Organization in downtown Duluth.
"The energy generated by the solar array will directly serve the shelter as well as indirectly serve the tenants of 29 apartments through powering offices and the auditorium which provide services to all residents," Minnesota Power wrote in a state filing.
Laing said the ultimate goal with the Lincoln Park solar garden is to create a public space, something interactive and alive.
"Things like lighting, public art - something more than just a chain link fence," she said. "This will help tell a different story, a story for the future instead of the past."
Ecolibrium3 is asking for donations with the goal of getting the array installed by the end of the year. The nonprofit is hosting a fundraiser - a sunraiser, actually - later in May that encourages businesses and groups to match pledges based on a weather-guessing competition. Details can be found at ecolibrium3.org/sunraiser.
"It's going to be really visible for the city of Duluth," Laing said, "and this can be an opportunity for you to drive by and say, 'Hey, I helped put that up.'"