Updated: May 24, 2014 at 9:20 am
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — The power of the sun may soon turn a relic of Fort Collins' agricultural past into a gateway to its future.
The city has proposed turning the site of the former Dreher pickle plant at the corner of Riverside Avenue and Mulberry Street into a community solar garden that could produce up to 600 kilowatts of power. City utilities customers could buy the ground-mounted solar panels and receive credit on their electric bills.
It's the third time in the last seven years the city has tried to pull off a solar project at the site of the old pickle plant.
Efforts in 2008 were felled by the economic downturn. They failed again in 2011 when Advanced Energy Industries backed out of a potential partnership. The city, however, picked up the ball and last year awarded a contract to Clean Energy Collective of Carbondale to build and own a solar array on the 6-acre property.
Bruce Hendee, the city's chief sustainability officer, said the proposed project would serve the needs of the community, providing other opportunities to develop other projects on the site.
"There's an opportunity to get a trail in there that meets the needs of the Conservation Trust Fund. The Natural Areas Department would like to reclaim the edge of the river that has been built up with concrete tailings over the years. We're trying to blend those three ingredients to create something."
The pilot program will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis with a limited number of panels for sale.
After available rebates and tax incentives, pricing is expected to be $1.59 per watt, or $485 per 305-watt panel, according to the city. The estimated annual output of the 600 kW garden is about 900,000 kilowatt hours, enough to offset the total electric consumption of about 100 homes.
The old pickle plant produced more than 5,000 tons of pickles, but the property has stood lifeless and ignored for decades. The plant ceased operations in 1988.
Fort Collins bought the site in 1995 for nearly $300,000 from the Dean Pickle and Specialty Products Co., which had vacated the site years earlier.
In 2008, the city bulldozed most of the remaining bones of the pickle plant, except for a former office. The Union Pacific railroad passes through the site, which precludes its development as a public park. That's left the city looking for ways to turn the property at the city's northern gateway into something more attractive and sustainable.