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Solar waterfall in NYC community garden

  • Subject: [cg] Solar waterfall in NYC community garden
  • From: Don Boekelheide <dboekelheide@yahoo.com>
  • Date: Fri, 29 Oct 2004 10:41:40 -0700 (PDT)

From Gay City News, NYC

The Sun Powers City Garden
Couple pioneers solar use in East Village green space


Environmentally friendly East Village gardeners have
just completed building a solar-powered waterfall, and
hope to extend the garden?s sun-powered capabilities
to lighting, pond oxygenating and more.

The waterfall in the garden, at East Sixth Street
between Avenues B and C, has taken ten years to
complete and is only the third garden in Manhattan
with a solar installation.

Entering the 6BC garden, it is hard to see where the
solar panels are mounted. There are a total of six
panels, four on the grape arbor, camouflaged by vines
and climbing plants, and two on the roof of the
garden?s raised library shed?s roof. The
21/2-foot-high waterfall is not immediately apparent
either, being hidden by the undergrowth.

The solar facility?s designer, builder and engineer,
Tracy Fitz, 55, has also just completed building a
second waterfall in another community garden in
Brooklyn, where she now lives.

It only takes one of the panels to work the waterfall,
but more have been installed to make the 6BC community
garden a fully functional solar-powered area.

?The six panels will charge batteries to work lights
and tools,? Fitz said. ?At the moment, we can charge
tools but we can?t run a tool directly from the power
for long.?

The solar panels, which cost $400, are made from
aluminum, making them lightweight and crack resistant.
The panels are able to absorb seven percent of the
sun?s energy and are capable of working on cloudy days
and in shady areas.

Fitz approached her solar-powered project with no
experience at all.

?I used to be a composer,? she explained. ?Now I make
my money from acupuncture and I eventually hope to
make money doing solar power.?

The inspiration for the project came primarily from
her grandfather.

?My grandfather was an engineer and architect, so it?s
in the genes,? Fitz said.

The influence from her grandfather?s work and a keen
interest in water, air and the environment have
inspired Fitz to pursue projects that use natural
energy. The 6BC garden was the perfect platform for
her first design.

Fitz, the treasurer for the nonprofit garden since
1996, thought of building the waterfall when she first
became a member of the garden 11 years ago, and met
her partner Diana Kline, 49, who was then the garden?s
president. Kline also had an interest in solar power,
and the two tried to convince funding organizations to
get the project up and running.

?We thought we would like to have a waterfall, but we
were not on the grid, so it would be good to be
solar,? Kline said.

The waterfall itself cost $10,000?not including labor
costs?partly funded by the Trust for Public Land and
other fundraising efforts.

Fitz educated herself about the project as she went

?She figured it out from scratch. What she did is
nothing short of phenomenal,? Kline said.

It all started when Fitz made contact with Tom Bishop
in Montana, who owns his own solar company, Sunelco.

?He was my mentor,? Fitz said. ?He helped and advised
me. He told me how to hook it all up. I also bought
equipment from him.?

From that starting point, Fitz decided to take a
course on solar power at Farmingdale State University
of New York and also became a Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design (LEED) professional. The LEED
certification program required her to take a
comprehensive exam about the environment,
architectural design, building use, recycling, water
resources and soil erosion.

The 6BC garden?s solar unit is near completion, with
only the lighting still to be hooked up for the tool
shed and library, which will house books on plants and
gardening. The solar facility will also be able to
charge tools for the garden, such as grass trimmers.

?We hold concerts, poetry reading and classes in the
garden. We can use the electricity to power a loud
speaker and lighting,? Fitz said.

Kline feels that having solar power in the community
garden will help show people it be can an accessible
alternative option to electricity.

?Anybody could walk by and ask ?What?s that?? It?s in
their mind. They may think solar power is unattainable
but then see it in the garden,? Kline said.

Fitz has learned the technology, but she isn?t
stopping there. She recently started her own company,
City Solar.

?I want to have a solar business that installs rooftop
installations for residential and commercial
buildings,? she said. ?I also want to have a nonprofit
organization to help community gardens to get off the

Fitz and Kline would like to see solar power used more
throughout New York, with the city following the lead
of Europe, which utilizes all kinds of spaces for
mounting solar panels.

?In Europe where gas prices are higher, they have
solar panels [on the banks] along the highways,? Fitz
said. ?We need to make use of horizontal and vertical
surfaces. If 24 percent of vertical and horizontal
surfaces in New York City are used, we would produce
more than enough energy?I think that?s the only way to
go to reduce energy consumption.?

For those interested in learning how to incorporate
solar power at home, Fitz runs a workshop. For more
information, go to citysolar.org or call Tracy Fitz at 718-768-8161.

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

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