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Upstate New York Campground Plans Solar Kolony

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

HERKIMER, N.Y., April 19, 2011 — With more than 40 inches of annual precipitation and three times as many cloudy days as sunny ones, upstate New York seems like the wrong place to determine the extent to which people can satisfy their energy needs with solar energy.

But Dr. Renee Scialdo Shevat argues that it’s actually an ideal place, since most of America has a similar climate. And she hopes to prove it with the energy production and consumption data she collects from the nation’s first “Solar Kolony,” which she is establishing this week at the Herkimer Diamond KOA campground in Hekimer, N.Y.

The “Solar Kolony” is a collection of three fully furnished “park model” cabins, which will be available for rent throughout the camping season. But unlike the “Kamping Lodges” that are available at other KOA campgrounds, Dr. Shevat’s units are powered exclusively by solar panels with a backup propane generator.

“We’re hoping to complete the installation of our ‘Solar Kolony’ in time for Earth Day on April 22nd,” Dr. Shevat said, adding that she is already receiving reservations from consumers who want to rent the environmentally friendly units.

Herkimer Diamond KOA installed its first solar powered park model cabin from Phoenix, Ariz.-based Cavco Industries last May. But the unit was so popular with campers that Dr. Shevat decided to install two more of Cavco’s solar powered park models this month, thus creating the nation’s first “Solar Kolony.”

But while many consumers will be enticed by the novelty of spending the night in the nation’s first “Solar Kolony,” Dr. Shevat is eager to study the Kolony’s energy production and consumption data, which she plans to share with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

The park models that Dr. Shevat purchased to create the Solar Kolony have been equipped with energy saving lighting and appliances. But no one knows, at this point, whether it’s more cost effective or green to use a propane generator to produce backup power to recharge the Kolony’s batteries or simply to tap into New York’s existing electrical grid, given the relatively low cost of electricity that’s available between midnight and 6 a.m. “This will be one of many questions we hope to answer during the coming year,” Dr. Shevat said.

Beyond this, she said, campers who spend the night in the “Solar Kolony” will also have a chance to learn about other green building and living practices.

The 400-square foot units, each of which sleep six, are all unique, but still have one thing in common: green technologies. Some of the units feature bamboo flooring, LED lighting, recycled axels and tires, recycled lumber composite decking, on-demand water heating, energy efficient heating and air-conditioning as well as a complete assortment of eco-friendly cleaning and bathroom products, including coreless toilet paper that leaves no cardboard core at the end of the roll. Even the units’ Amish-style furniture has been manufactured from recycled milk jugs and recycled hickory wood.

Storage tanks are also being set up to capture rainwater that falls on the units so that it can be used to irrigate an organic vegetable and herb garden. Park guests will be encouraged to pick vegetables and herbs from the garden during the summer months and to use them in their cooking while they stay at the park.

“Our guests will not only have an opportunity for a great camping experience, but the dwelling itself becomes an educational tool,” Dr. Shevat said, adding, “My hope is that our guests not only come to enjoy our park and our ‘Solar Kolony’ with friends and family, but come away inspired to live a greener lifestyle.”

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