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Solar power for Manhattan Beach - MBCG prez has plan to transform shuttered bathhouse

In the battle to win the hearts and minds of Manhattan Beach residents, this one may be impossible to top.

Ladies and gentlemen, Manhattan Beach Community Group President Ira Zalcman brings you…the sun.

“I have this dream of this community being self-sufficient,” Zalcman told members of the group last week in introducing his bold new plan to transform the shuttered Manhattan Beach Bathhouse into a 21st century solar power generating station.

As fantastic as it may sound, two engineers with Innovative Energy Solutions (IES) – a company specializing in providing solar energy systems for both residential and commercial use – are already working on the designs.

“There are no obstacles,” IES representative Jose Ortega, Jr. said of the beachfront spot. “It’s an ideal environment.”

According to Ortega, the transformed solar station could produce enough energy to power all the homes in Manhattan Beach and Kingsborough Community College with enough juice left to sell back to the utilities.

“There could be a blackout like the one in Queens, and we could be watching TV,” Zalcman said.

Just a few weeks ago, Mayor Mike Bloomberg made headlines talking about putting wind turbines on New York City rooftops. Two years ago, the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability was created to help make New York City a world leader in environmentally sound technologies.

“This is definitely in the mayor’s plan,” Zalcman said. “I see this thing spreading out to other communities around us.”

Other small communities in Rhode Island and Massachusetts have already gone solar.

“Technology has come a long way in the last five years,” Ortega said.

Not only are solar panels able to generate more power than ever before – the simple grid Ortega totes around outside his backpack is able to power his laptop computer, cell phone and PDA – they’re also more versatile.

Zalcman says that solar collecting cells could be installed high up on poles around the Manhattan Beach Bathhouse “in such a way that it would blend in and you wouldn’t even know it was there.”

“There are so many different solutions,” Ortega stressed.

Technological problems involving storing and transporting solar power energy still exist, but Ortega insists that the “stars are aligned” and the combination of political will and financial incentives now has the “best and brightest working on it.”

“Private industry sees the cost effectiveness [of solar power] and there’s interest on both sides of the aisle,” Ortega said.

At least one Manhattan Beach resident hearing Zalcman proposal was ready to have solar panels installed on her home right away.

“If you’re willing to come to my house tomorrow, I’m willing to do it – or put a wind turbine in my backyard,” she said.

A slew of new tax breaks, rebates and subsidies now exist to make conversion costs – as low as $35,000 to $40,000 in some cases – more palatable than ever before.

Depending on the system, Ortega said that individual homeowners interested in installing solar panels could begin getting a “payback” on their investment in as little as four to seven years.

But Zalcman isn’t waiting nearly that long to realize his dream of transforming the Manhattan Beach Bathhouse into a “solar farm.”

“My hope is that by next summer they’re up there,” he said. “I’m hoping it will be my legacy.”

Zalcman still needs the support of the Parks Department, local elected officials and his neighbors.

“I haven’t sat down with Parks yet and I’d like to get Kingsborough on board,” he said. “I’m hoping that our local politicians will join with us — and the other group, too. It benefits everybody. The future is here.”

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