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    Surfers Bring Solar Power to Sandy Victims in the Rockaways

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    New York just got swamped by a record superstorm. Then a Nor’easter covered it in snow. Thousands of people are still without power, they’re cold, and some are newly homeless. It will probably be weeks before power is restored to the hardest-hit communities, like the Rockaways in Queens. Not only have the electrical substations have been damaged there, but the entire infrastructure, the wiring and circuit boxes linking people’s homes to the grid, has been totally drenched. And winter is on the way.

    So a group of surfers calling themselves Power Rockaway Resilience wants to bring the neighborhood back online with solar power. They’re bringing in small solar generators to power community centers, and supplying portable propane heating systems to homes.

    Here’s how the group describes the situation on the ground: “Tonight, families are sleeping outside together around campfires. Residents are reluctant to evacuate and abandon their homes; looting is still widespread and safe shelter and transportation off the peninsula is limited. In public housing, survivors risk asphyxiation to heat their apartments with gas stoves. On these freezing nights there are no other options.”

    The members comprise a self-described “group of planners and engineers who surf Rockaway Beach.” After they started helping with relief efforts, delivering warm clothes and offering transportation, they began attracting some attention online. Walter Meyer, who’s spearheading the initiative, decided to turn to solar to get the lights back on.

    “Many folks have been following our posts on Facebook and asked how to help directly,” he wrote. “Hence this campaign.”

    It’s a crowdfunding campaign launched on IndieGoGo that aims to raise cash to bring reliable solar power to the stranded Sandy victims. Meyer describes the initiative as follows:

    Priority one is power and heat. Rockaway will remain dark and cold long after utility substations are repaired, because the electrical circuit boxes, wiring and heating systems in nearly every building were inundated with salt water. These systems must be replaced, repaired and recertified on a case-by-case basis before residents can use their power and heat systems.

    Now we’re hoping to scale our efforts up. With your help, we will purchase and deliver solar generators and modular heating stations to critical locations in Rockaway Beach. After the utilities power up again, these solar generators will supplement the grid with resilient energy and provide a renewable buffer in future storms.

    They’ve already secured two such solar systems, one courtesy of Boat US. SunWize Power has agreed to supply the systems at cost, and incoming donations will help to heat and light up Rockaway.

    In the wake of the storm, I wrote that we desperately need to install more distributed power and rely less on centralized power plants and our aging grid. Power Rockaway Reslience is doing exactly that. Their IndieGogo page has more info, where you can look into helping them speed the process if you’re so inclined.