April 21-27, 2014

South Florida Island Seeks Solar Solution

Adams Key tries going to 100 percent green power

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBCDFW.com
    Tim Jones spent thousands of dollars -- even after rebates and tax credits -- to install a solar-power system.

    Does saving taxpayer money, protecting our waters from spills and enhancing the environment sound like a good idea?

    Well, it's happening right now on an island near Miami at a new solar power installation that may some day be common for all of us.

    Solar Island

    [MI] Solar Island
    Over pristine waters in Biscayne National Park, an island called Adams Key switches to solar power. (Published Friday, Jun 18, 2010)

    Birds twitter and fish swim. Palm trees sway as the sun dances behind wispy clouds. And mangroves undulate slowly in the breeze. Paradise.

    The families love it at Adams Key. Except for the loud blare of the generators, whirring 24/7. Worse, they often break down, leaving them powerless, with no air conditioning.

    Over pristine waters in Biscayne National Park, park service workers once hauled 1,500 gallons of fuel twice a month to a small island to power those generators for the buildings that house the park rangers' families.

    Now those trips may soon be less frequent.

    "Yeah, we're really excited," says Melissa Stack, a park ranger's wife who lives on Adams Key. Holding her baby daughter, she says living and raising her child on an island is wonderful, despite the challenges.

    But the hammering and pounding and pumping from her roof is a welcome – albeit temporary - noise.

    "The sun's shining. We're putting out 187 volts of DC voltage right now up on this rooftop," says a proud Ed Stroebel, standing atop the roof under the blazing sun. He and his crew are installing solar tiles that look like regular roof tiles. "Solar tile is basically a roof in itself that generates electricity, instead of putting up solar panels which are more susceptible to hurricanes and don't look as nice as solar tile,” he says.

    Stroebel is a solar pioneer. By upgrading the three buildings' efficiency, it'll cut power use by 60 percent.

    It's federal stimulus money, about $410,000. Taxpayers recoup the investment in 7 years, saving $60,000 every year after.

    "We are the Sunshine State,” Stroebel says. “And we should be powering the Sunshine State with sunshine. The people in the parks department see this. They're in a beautiful sunny area, and they're going to be powering this little part of the Sunshine State with pure sunshine."

    Biscayne National Park leaders love it, too.

    "It is absolutely close to our mission,” says Myrne Palfrey, the Superintendent. “And it takes us just a step closer to being able to provide the best Biscayne that anyone can have."

    They can now flip the switch and go all solar. No longer relying on a yellow pipe to pump diesel fuel into tanks. They hope to replicate the solar idea to Elliott Key to the north. But that'll take money, and the question of when becomes the big issue there.