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Old tower to get new power

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

With the help of a recently begun campaign fund, the smokestack at the Durango Discovery Museum – towering above museum marketing and communications guru Haz Said – may soon become the centerpiece of a science park powered by clean energy.

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

The Durango Discovery Museum, which is housed in a 120-year-old power plant, intends to make its landmark smokestack the centerpiece of a science park powered by clean energy.

A capital campaign – called Back the Stack – that started the day after Christmas has a minimum goal of $133,000 to develop a series of demonstration projects showcasing leading-edge applications of age-old power sources: sun, wind and water.

“We’d like to have five to 10 interactive projects for visitors of all ages,” said Haz Said, who handles marketing and communications for the museum.

“We’ll have energy of all kinds in keeping with the theme of the museum – energy past, present and future.”

Production of marketable amounts of electricity isn’t the goal. But together, museum directors hope, the sources will generate enough power to make the museum and science park a net-zero energy site.

The museum already is into alternative, clean energy. It has solar panels tied to the grid and three geothermal wells that help heat the museum in the winter and cool it in the summer.

The former power plant’s grey, weather-scarred smokestack will be the center of attention in the next round of projects.

One proposal involves the application of thermal convection which, put simply, demonstrates that heat rises. One or a pair of turbines will be installed inside the stack, and the exterior surface of the 100-foot tunnel will be painted a dark color.

As sun rays pound the smokestack, its somber color enhances the absorption of solar rays. Heat builds inside the stack and the updraft of hot air will turn the turbines.

Flexible leaf-shaped photovoltaic solar panels, called Solar Ivy after the company that manufactures them and which are evocative of the ivy-covered walls of academia, will be affixed to the exterior of the smokestack.

The Solar Ivy panels do double duty when the sun shines and the wind blows because each has attached a piezoelectric (electromechanical) generator that produces power through the motion of the movable leaves.

An old standby, water, also could contribute to power production. Because the museum is situated on the banks of the Animas River at Camino del Rio and east 14th Street, a 30-foot waterwheel just downstream of the U.S. Geological Survey gauging station would be installed.

This project requires approval from government agencies.

The power plant started operating in 1893 as Durango Light & Power Co. It was acquired by the Western Colorado Power Co., which owned six other generating stations, including one at Tacoma on the Animas River near Rockwood, and in Ouray and Montrose.

A dispatcher in Silverton controlled the operations of the generating plants.

The Durango plant closed in the early 1970s and the site sat abandoned. In 1999, the Colorado Historical Society gave the city of Durango a $310,000 grant to rehabilitate the structure, which eventually resulted in the city awarding the Durango Children’s Museum a free 25-year lease contingent on it raising $5 million.

The museum opened in February 2011.

It features interactive exhibits, some long-term, others that rotate every few months; programs for all ages that focus on science themes, particularly energy; and events, including a weekly trivia night.

The Solar Roller is a mobile science laboratory that covers the Four Corners, serving populations that can’t visit Durango.

Middle school and high school students interested in science train to become museum docents.

The Back the Stack financing campaign has started well, Said said.

“We know that several big contributions are coming,” he said. “We’ve received a donation from New Zealand as the result of the social networking of our supporters.”


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