5 acre island realizes Phase I of solar development; Solar replaces diesel-generator for clean energy
Pigeon Key is located between Key West and Key Largo and well known as a paradise for snorkelers with its pristine turquoise waters and fascinating sea life. In sight of US Highway 1 it is accessible only by waterway or through a 2.2 mile pedestrian bridge. Without any connection to the power grid, the island—like many off-grid locations in the Keys—is dependent on diesel generators for electricity. The fuel for these generators typically had to be transported by ferry from the mainland which had been not only a rather expensive but also extremely risky transport environmentally in the delicate ecosystem of the Keys.
Within this sensitive ecosystem, the Pigeon Key Foundation operates a Marine Science Center for children as well as adults and a museum detailing the island’s history. Seven of the island’s twelve buildings are on the national register of historic places and a reminder of the time the island served as camp for up to 400 railroad workers in the beginning of the 20th century. Millionaire entrepreneur Henry Flagler invested a fortune in building the Overseas Railway connecting Key West with Key Largo, an undertaking many of his contemporaries deemed impossible and that was also admiringly dubbed “8th Wonder of the World” after its completion in 1912. Now the island is home of yet another innovative development: the Key’s very first solar array on historical grounds.
Besides providing a good percentage of the foundation’s energy needs to run the museum and the marine center, the solar panels will reduce CO2-emissions by almost 61 tons annually. It is not a coincidence that 50% of the project costs were covered by a grant of the Tourist Development Committee who takes the preservation of one of the world’s most unique and beautiful ecosystems rather seriously.
“The installation of solar power was a natural choice,” said Pigeon Key Foundation Chairman Jason Koler. “The diesel system, while revolutionary when it was installed, became an increasing environmental and financial liability. Our mission is to protect our natural resources and with this new power source we will continue to inspire a new generation of environmental stewards.”
SALT Service Inc. is a Marathon, Florida, based solar integrator who designed, developed and executed the demanding installation of the 24 kW array. All 96 of the high-yielding 250 Wp MAGE POWERTEC PLUS monocrystalline PV-modules had to be transported by boat to the island before they could be mounted onto a custom-built aluminum frame designed to withstand 180 mph wind loads. The 1,700 sq ft canopy will serve as a picnic area for the thousands of visitors who can now enjoy the stunning setting of the island in the shade and shelter of the array.
In addition to the challenges of being in a flood and hurricane zone, limited to ferry access for construction, this project required coordination between The Pigeon Key Foundation, Monroe County Commissioners and Building Permit personnel, SALT Service, Inc., The Tourist Development Council and the Historical Preservation Committee in addition to MAGE SOLAR and other solar product providers and specialty contractors. SALT Service, Inc. President, Chuck Meier, states “SALT is honored to have played a key role in this world class installation that will provide functional and educational benefits for many years. It was very rewarding to observe the expression on the faces of those who have been operating and maintaining the generators for years when the solar was turned on and the generator turned off. Everyone enjoyed the overwhelming ‘sound of silence’.”
MAGE SOLAR’s CEO and President Joe Thomas is equally excited: “Pigeon Key is a place of such breathtaking beauty and I couldn’t be more pleased about the Foundation’s decision to go solar. To realize this project was the right choice from an environmental standpoint but also critical in the continued success of the island as a prime tourist destination in one of the world’s most pristine ecosystems. Our thanks and heartfelt congratulations go out to both partners, the Pigeon Key Foundation as well as SALT Service Inc. for a job most wonderfully done.”