Local Landmark Works to Make Changes for Future

Northland Uncovered: Duluth Energy Systems

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Today, Canal Park is thought of as tourist central. However, it wasn’t always that way.

Back when the area was completely industrial, a steam plant was built and it’s still there working and keeping some history alive in the modern times.

It’s a Duluth Landmark that’s often forgotten.

“It’s an irreplaceable asset for the city of Duluth, even if it is 80 years old and has a few warts,” said Jim green, general manager for Duluth Energy Systems.

You’ve probably driven past the Duluth Steam Plant countless times, but never really given it a second thought because it’s a design you’ve seen before.

“Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s whenever a building got built in Duluth it came complete with a boiler and a smoke stack,” explained Green.

It sits right next to I-35 in Canal Park and has been heating the city for more than 80 years.

“Right now there’s over 11 miles of steam pipe that runs underneath the streets and sidewalks of Duluth serving buildings,” said Green.

That’s not how buildings were always heated.

“Trucks with coal were driving up to every single driveway, they were shoveling coal into the basement of the building and they were producing their energy on site,” said Green.

Built in 1932, it was a creative idea to make a simpler heating process throughout Duluth.

“I think back on that time, there must have been a lot of skeptics that said they didn’t want to do that and what about reliability and we’ll have to count on this one plant to provide our needs,” said Green.

Now, decades later, change is back again.

“This truly is a once in a generation, maybe once in several generations, opportunity for our community to modernize our district heating system,” said Mayor Don Ness.

The steam plant is no longer familiar “Duluth Steam,” but “Duluth Energy Systems,” bringing a modern name and logo with a new plan for the future.

“Instead of sending energy out to the buildings in the form of steam we would send it in the form of hot water and then loop that water back to the plant,” explained Green.

This hot water system will make the city 40 percent more energy efficient.

“Duluth is taking a national role in developing the transition to a lower carbon economy,” said Jodi Slick, CEO of Ecolibrium3.

It’s a distinct building, with coal-dust stained windows and a tendency to go unnoticed by those passing by, but it’s also an innovative project with a bright future.  

Construction will begin on Superior Street in 2017 to start the process of putting in the new pipes and should take three construction seasons to complete.

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