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Belwin Conservancy installs solar arrays at its athletic fields

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Belwin Conservancy, in Afton, is working to harvest the power of the sun. 

This month, Belwin unveiled a new solar structure that was installed at its Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields, in West Lakeland, in an effort to conserve energy. 

The structure, which is roughly 60 feet by 80 feet, features 63 solar panels on its roof. 

“It works on our mission from the standpoint of not being a drain on the environment,” Belwin’s Executive Director Nancy Kafka said. “This is a way of really walking the talk.” 

The official unveiling of the structure took place May 29. 

CAPTURING THE SUN

It was back in 2013 that Ideal Energies approached Belwin about installing solar panels on its property thanks to a tax credit that was available through Minnesota Made. 

After some research into where the most electricity is used on Belwin’s 1,364 acres, it was discovered that the Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields used the most. 

“The most electricity that is used by Belwin is at the athletic complex because we have to pump water from a well that is a mile away when we’re irrigating,” Kafka said. 

It was decided to install the solar panels on an open area structure – essentially a gazebo-type structure – which can then be used by the St. Croix Soccer Club and the St. Croix Valley Athletic Association, which have contracts with Belwin for use of the fields, for celebrations and picnics. 

The installation, and structure construction, cost around $150,000, Kafka said. 

Through the use of solar panels, Belwin will not only be able to generate roughly 85 percent of its annual electricity usage, which totals around $5,000 annually, but the panels will also help offset an estimated 38,517 pounds of  carbon dioxide annually. 

“It functions the same way a tree does; it takes the energy and converts it into electricity and pushes that energy back out,” Kafka said. “It’s a story worth telling, but it needs to be told in a way that makes sense.” 

The panels are expected to generate about 38,000 kilowatt hours a year.

Kafka said Belwin was so eager to share the story of its solar structure that the whole endeavor has grown into something much larger. 

“We wanted to see if there was some way to make that solar project more,” she said, “not just installation, but education.” 

CONNECTING THROUGH EDUCATION

Belwin has partnered with the Phipps Center for the Arts to help spread the solar structure’s and Belwin’s story, but also as a way to bring more people to the structure. 

Anastasia Shartin, visual arts director  with the Phipps, said she is looking forward to the partnership with Belwin because it provides an interesting opportunity to bring arts out into the community. 

“The arts are a really critical vehicle for conversations and interactions and for education and for making connections,” she said. 

Throughout the summer, Shartin and the Phipps will be at the solar structure conducting various activities such as art camps and on-site art activities. 

Additionally, the Phipps will be distributing an activity booklet that includes information about Belwin and bingo and poetry activities. 

“We created a program to really educate, or introduce, the soccer and athletic people to the arts and to Belwin,” Kafka said. “We’ve always wanted to have a presence up there because there’s been very little connection between Lucy Winton Bell and the Belwin Conservancy – and now is our chance.” 

Kafka said this year will mainly be an experiment to see how successful the partnership is, but hopefully more activities can be offered in the future. 

In fact, Belwin’s master plan calls for upgrades to the Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields, including the creation of a natural amphitheater, in the future. 

“This year is kind of an experiment to determine if we even attract an audience or if we can engage people in learning more about the natural world,” she said. 

Kafka said she is looking forward to seeing where the solar structure, and the partnership with the Phipps Center for the Arts, can take Belwin in the future. 

“Belwin is able to connect directly with the users of the facility while telling the story of what humans do in the world and how it impacts the land,” she said. “The storytelling opportunities of that facility are extraordinary.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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