HOLLAND, Mich. (AP) — When the Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW) 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.

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

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

Dave Koster, HPBW's 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 the downtown area.

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 snowmelt 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.

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

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

Holland, which claims to have the largest snowmelt 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 HPBW and community leaders have not yet decided what to do with the property, located between a gravel company and an auto recycling

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Information from: The Grand Rapids Press:MLive.com, http://www.mlive.com