Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Harnessing the sun on Pigeon Key
TDC grant makes historical island eco-friendly

The one thing the Florida Keys has a lot of -- and will not run out of -- is sunshine.

The Pigeon Key Foundation and the Marathon-based SALT Service Inc. installed a series of solar panels at the old Flagler Railroad work camp on Pigeon Key to harness energy from the sun.

The retrofit now makes the island more energy efficient and will help the struggling nonprofit foundation save money.

Because it is not easily accessible from the mainland, Pigeon Key is not connected to the electrical grid and had been relying solely on a generator, which has become more costly in recent years with the rising cost of diesel fuel, Pigeon Key Foundation Executive Director Kelly McKinnon said.

The foundation had been using 28 to 30 gallons of diesel fuel a day, McKinnon said. It will continue to use the generator but only for backup, as the solar panels can take care of most of the energy needs for the small island, McKinnon said.

Pigeon Key frequently hosts college and environmental groups that study the ocean.

"We teach students to be good stewards of the environment, but we were using diesel fuel 24 hours a day," McKinnon said. "We are now practicing what we preach."

The diesel fuel eliminated by the use of solar energy will reduce the carbon footprint by 50 tons annually, which is the equivalent of planting about 225 trees each year.

Workers with SALT Service installed 96 solar panels, comprising an area 105 feet in length and 16 feet wide, said SALT owner Chuck Beier said.

The system will produce 42 kilowatts of power and batteries will store excess energy for nighttime use, even when the sun isn't shining. It was also built to withstand a 180-mph wind load, Beier said.

"The system was built to stand up to the harsh environment," he said.

The $212,000 project was half funded by the county Tourist Development Council.

Pigeon Key is a 5.3-acre island containing eight buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. They were built between 1908 and 1912 and are some of the oldest remains of the Florida East Coast Railway.

tohara@keysnews.com

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