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Walsh County officials hope to use excess power from an underused power plant at the Life Skills and Transition Center to energize a proposed, privately developed hydroponic greenhouse in Grafton. From left, Julie Campbell of the Walsh County Job Development Authority; Dawn Keeley, executive director of the Red River Regional Council; and Sen. Tom Campbell discuss the plan. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

Grafton mulls a 5-acre greenhouse

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GRAFTON, N.D. – Economic development officials in Grafton are looking for ways to get more use out of an underused power plant, with some saying it could power a five-acre hydroponic greenhouse.

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David Holand, a Fargo developer who has developed and owned large-scale citrus and other agricultural operations around the nation, says he’s interested.

“I’m just excited about this,” he said. “For years I’ve had an idea of doing a greenhouse project out of there. If we can generate the electricity, that would be huge. We’re talking a greenhouse that covers about two city blocks.”

Beyond tomatoes, cucumbers or other produce staples, he said the greenhouse also could produce specialty crops, perhaps in partnership with area research universities or natural food and vitamin manufacturers.

Electricity would come from the Life Skills and Transition Center’s coal- and gas-fired power plant, which operates at just 25 percent capacity as a result of three decades of downsizing.

“It’s a great source of power,” said Sen. Tom Campbell, R-Grafton. “It’d be nice to be able to use it.”

To know whether using the power for a greenhouse is feasible, the Red River Regional Council is seeking a $26,587 state grant for a study. The state Agricultural Product Utilization Commission will consider the request, along with 10 others statewide when it meets July 22 in Medora.

The Grafton City Council’s economic development committee has approved $4,431 in matching funds for the study. The county Job Development Authority will consider the same amount later this month.

Other uses

“The study is the crucial foundation,” said Dawn Keeley, regional council executive director. “We want to answer the questions of how can we benefit from this as a community, and how the state can benefit.”

The study would determine the feasibility of the greenhouse project, which would be built in the adjacent industrial park and estimated to employ 20. But it also would identify other uses.

For example, the power plant can provide the city of Grafton with about

one-third of its emergency electrical needs and heat the industrial park.

The Life Skills and Transition Center, once known as the State Developmental Center, continues to serve about 100 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with a workforce of about 340. In the mid-1980s, the center was home to more than 1,300 and employed about 1,000.

Previous redevelopment projects at the facility include the rehabilitation of two historic, vacant buildings and their conversion into Hancock Place, which provides 19 market-rate apartments, and Villa De Remer, with 30 low- and moderate-income apartments.

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Kevin Bonham
Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: www.grandforksherald.com. He welcomes story ideas via email, kbonham@gfherald.com, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  
(701) 780-1110
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