Holland utility plant melts sidewalk, street snow

Jim Harger
Grand Rapids Press

Holland, Mich. — When the Holland Board of Public Works opened its $240 million Energy Park power plant last fall, the fact that it also melted snow seemed incidental.

Now that they’re in mid-winter and have melted more than 100 inches of snow already, BPW officials have something to show for it.

Holland has had the sidewalk melt system since 1988, which helps the area stay free of snow and ice.

Nearly five miles of downtown streets and sidewalks were clean and dry when they invited the media in for a “show and tell” on Feb. 8.

The snow melt system pumps water that’s warmed to 95 degrees by excess heat from the new gas-powered electrical plant through plastic tubes buried beneath the streets and sidewalks of downtown Holland.

Dave Koster, Holland Board of Public Works’ general manager, said the system is melting snow for about 500,000 square feet of Holland’s downtown today, the Grand Rapids Press reported. The new plant has the capacity to melt snow over five times that area, he said.

The water used to melt the snow is warmed by the new power plant, which uses two gas-fired turbines and a steam turbine to generate electricity for the city. The water used to cool the steam turbine is diverted to the snow melt system instead of the three cooling towers on the edge of the power plant at the east end of downtown.

Koster said the 95-degree water used in the system heats the sidewalks to about 43 degrees, enough to melt the snow and ice that accumulates. It returns to the power plant about 20 degrees cooler.

Holland has had a sidewalk snow melt system since 1988, when local industrialist and downtown real estate investor Edgar Prince saw a similar system in Europe and convinced city officials to bring the concept to Holland, where a coal-fired plant was operating on the west end of downtown.

The 95-degree system water heats the sidewalks to 43 degrees.

Since then, other west Michigan have installed similar snow melt operations. Grand Haven has a snow melt system that extends for several blocks along Washington Street from Harbor Drive to Third Street.

Grand Rapids has a public snow melt system along its Monroe Center corridor plus several private in sidewalks along downtown streets.

Holland, which claims to have the largest snow melt system in North America, has made the system an integral part of its new Holland Energy Park, a visitor-friendly operation that welcomes community groups and students to learn about energy production and conservation.

The old James DeYoung power plant on the shores of Lake Macatawa burned its last coal in April 2016.

Koster said the Board of Public Works and community leaders have not yet decided what to do with the property, located between a gravel company and an auto recycling operation.