Historic Pigeon Key Goes Solar, Trims Diesel

Pigeon Key is just a speck in the long arc of the Florida Keys. It’s off the grid. The Overseas Highway goes around it. You have to take a ferry from Marathon or walk or bike the two-plus miles on an old bridge to get there.

But little Pigeon Key has big historical importance – a century ago, it was home to 400 workers building the Overseas Railroad connecting Key West with Key Largo – and now it has clean, quiet solar power instead of noisy, dirty diesel to power its educational attractions.

pigeon key solar

image via Andy Newman/Mage Solar

The Pigeon Key Foundation, which oversees the island, undertook the solarization, according to PV panel maker Mage Solar, which worked with local installer SALT Service on the project.

“The installation of solar power was a natural choice,” Pigeon Key Foundation Chairman Jason Koler said in a statement. “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.”

This is a small array compared to the sort of thing we often report on, at 24 kilowatts, but according to the foundation, it’s expected to provide about 90 percent of the electricity needed to run a museum, marine center and other facilities on Pigeon Key, while also avoiding 61 tons of annual C02 emissions.

The solar array is on canopy structure, which will allow it to serve as a shade-providing pavilion for picnics and meeting, and it comes with storage. According to Mage, underground wires carry the energy produced to charger and inverter equipment and 48-volt storage batteries 500 feet away on the opposite side of the island.

According to the local Keys Weekly, the project cost $212,000, which is no small piece of change for a small foundation. But the Monroe County Tourist Development Council chipped in for half the cost and when you consider that foundation had been paying $50,000 a year for diesel, and now that figure is likely to drop to around $5,000, it won’t be long before the system pays for itself.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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