Will Steger Wilderness Center Announces Completion of Stand-alone, Zero-carbon Power System at 240-acre Retreat Center

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Island-mode power grid using solar with batteries is demonstration project for remote-area, carbon-free power

Photo credit: John Ratzloff

This is an exciting time for all those who have worked to demonstrate that it is possible to have a community working with modern technology in a remote wilderness area using only self-contained and renewable energy sources.

The Will Steger Wilderness Center today announced a major milestone toward opening its unique leadership retreat center with the completion of a fully stand-alone, carbon-free power system to provide electricity to buildings and workshops on the pristine wilderness site just outside of Ely, Minn. near the protected Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). The system is an extension of the center’s focus on clean energy and the use of renewable materials and sustainable processes throughout its operation.

The stand-alone power system supplies energy for the non-profit center, which was founded and is operated by pioneering explorer and climate change leader Will Steger. The island-mode power grid is also a demonstration project intended to be a model for other off-grid power systems in remote areas that have unique power needs and applications. Renewable energy enthusiasts and industry participants have also been watching the project’s potential to demonstrate a small-scale fully independent power grid.

With the completion of Phase I of this power grid, the system is now capable of providing up to 20 kilowatts of power from a combination of solar and battery sources with solar providing more than half of the energy. The system includes automated demand management capability to provide power for mission-critical functions along with a backup diesel genset for emergencies. It is designed to provide power for multiple buildings on the site and power for the construction finalization of the main retreat center building. The first pilot leadership team is expected to use the center by the fall of 2016.

A launch event on October 7 at the Will Steger Wilderness Center will include a ceremonial flip of the switch to ‘power-on’ the system by key participants who have provided both technical and material resources. Cummins Power Generation provided the genset and helped in the technical design and feasibility study in the early stages of the project. Other partners in the landmark project include Jon Kramer, CEO of Sundial Solar; Dr. Greg Mowry, associate professor in the School of Engineering at the University of St. Thomas; tenKsolar; and BAE Batteries. Participants in the demonstration project have donated the vast majority of the material and labor for the system.

“This is an exciting time for all those who have worked to demonstrate that it is possible to have a community working with modern technology in a remote wilderness area using only self-contained and renewable energy sources,” said Will Steger, executive director of the Will Steger Wilderness Center. “The completion of the power grid is also a leap forward toward our goal of bringing leaders to a fully functioning wilderness retreat center to work on complex issues such as climate change and sustainability. We’re grateful to all of the contributors to this project who are demonstrating that it is possible to live and work on real-world problems using sustainable practices that will not deplete scarce resources.”

Event Details
In addition to the energy demonstration, the event will include a tour of the Wilderness Center showing the center’s focus on the use of renewable materials and sustainable operations. The tour will feature the multiple center buildings made primarily with recycled wood and timber forested on the site, stained glass created in the woodshops, refrigeration provided by the ice-house with ice harvested from the lake by horse power, and the central retreat center’s large stone foundations built primarily with rock hand-quarreled near the site with the design and labor provided by master stonemasons and apprentices.

In addition to its future purpose as a leadership retreat center, the Will Steger Wilderness Center has been the base for more than a dozen significant expeditions including the 3,471 mile International

Trans-Antarctic expedition, the first unsupported dogsled expedition to the North Pole and many other expeditions that have brought back some of the earliest eyewitness accounts of climate change in remote arctic regions.

The Will Steger Wilderness Center is a 501 (c) (3) organization and more information is available at http://www.stegerwildernesscenter.org.

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Christine Lekatz
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