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Solar Attraction 


Renewable energy. The arts. Combine the two to create a unique arts and business complex powered by sunlight, an existing waterfall, and possibly even recycled vegetable oil from local restaurants. Do this by rehabilitating and redeveloping a sprawling former box-board mill that straddles a section of the Stonycreek Kill, about a mile from the village of Chatham.

Add all kinds of cool things: artist studios; workshop space for ecofriendly woodworking, metalsmithing, and tilemaking businesses; and a huge green building center, where prefab homes with integrated energy-efficient systems can be manufactured. Maybe even construct a carbon-neutral ecovillage on the property adjacent to the mill, and simply move those energy-efficient, prefab dwellings down the road. Encourage residents to leave their cars in a lot off the main thoroughfare and use electric vehicles, or, better yet, their legs and feet, to
get to their front doors. Some residents might even be able to walk from work to home if they hold one of the “green-collar” jobs at the Solaqua complex, or if they work at the restaurant or performance space envisaged for the property.

Solaqua Power and Art is the dream of Jody Rael, owner and president of Kling Magnetics, Inc., a manufacturer of custom magnets and magnetic products, and SunDog Solar, a renewable-energy consultation and installation business that Rael launched this past August as Solaqua’s first incubator business. All three businesses, with about two dozen workers (some of whom change hats, depending on need), are housed in a combined offi ce building and manufacturing plant on the large mill property that Rael purchased in 1997.

In keeping with Rael’s green philosophy and plans for the site, eight solar electric (photovoltaic) panels mounted on poles have been installed alongside the dirt parking lot between the ’60s-era manufacturing plant and the century-old mill. The panels, which have been operational since June, provide 12.6 kilowatts of power to the building where Rael runs his three businesses and conducts research on renewables. The goal for the PV solar system is to off set escalating utility costs while conserving energy from nonrenewable sources, such as petroleum products. Rael hopes that the new system will handle one-third to one-half of the building’s energy needs.

With a grant from NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority), Rael and crew have also launched a solar thermal (solar hot water) project. It consists of three arrays of evacuated tubes, flat-plate solar collectors, and a hybrid system that works in conjunction with traditional propane-fueled or electric water heaters. Since April, a prototype solar-thermal system has provided all of the hot water for the Kling Magnetics building.

“The potential [for solar thermal] is limitless, commercially and residentially,” says Rebecca Boyd, Rael’s daughter and Solaqua marketing director. “Solar thermal could be used for car washes, laundromats.” Boyd says that once the solar thermal project is installed at Kling, it is projected to save more than $1,000
annually in propane expenses.

Yet another Solaqua project involves converting fryer waste, collected weekly from local restaurants, into renewable energy. Again, the Kling manufacturing plant will act as guinea pig. The experiment will begin this winter, when the filtered veggie oil will be used, via a waste-oil burner, to heat the building and run a generator. A back-up propane system will be in place should any kinks need to be worked out.

With all three projects, the company wants to reduce its carbon footprint, demonstrate methods of reducing national dependence on foreign oil, and develop systems that can help educate the community about renewable sources of energy. The Solaqua group also hopes that the systems will be replicated at the mill site.

Meanwhile, Kling Magnetics and SunDog Solar continue as usual. Kling creates custom magnets for toymakers, publishers, and companies that use magnets for promotional or educational purposes. Clients listed in the company’s literature include Fisher Price, General Foods, Pepsi, Continental Airlines, Learning Resources, and Scott Foresman. In the educational market, manipulatives are particularly popular. Says Rael, “It’s easy to teach someone about fractions if you have a magnetic pie that you can move pieces out of.”

For the retail market, Kling manufactures magnetic paint, magnetic travel puzzles and games, and magnetic playing cards, which can be used outdoors (great on a windy day) or indoors by people who are bedridden or traveling via train, plane, boat, or automobile—anywhere cards can get lost or be hard to retrieve.

Speaking of...

  • Ann Braybrooks visits the Chatham campus of SunDog Solar and Solaqua Power and Art.

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