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Smith River group plans to use sun, water to run ranch

By Hilary Corrigan

Triplicate staff writer

An environmental group's ranch on the Smith River will soon feature sun and water-powered energy in an effort to showcase such technology and lighten human effects on natural resources.

"We do want to, I guess you could say, walk the talk," said Grant Werschkull, executive director of the nonprofit Smith River Alliance.

The group aims to set up a solar panel system by May and a water-powered system by November at Rock Creek Ranch. The energy from photovoltaic panels and a magnetic wheel will wire to a set of batteries that can store their power and fuel the site's facilities.

A Humboldt State University engineering class designed the systems last fall, using existing traits of the property — a culvert and a sunny section — to meet the ranch's power needs.

A composting system in an outhouse avoids the environmental damage from building a septic system, instead using bacteria, air and heat to break down waste.

"Part of what we're trying to do here is be a model," said Clarke Moore, a group member who lives nearby at the South Fork area that remains off of the power grid. "And what a place to do it."

In 2002, the Smith River Alliance bought the 15-acre property that once belonged to rich industrialist George Owen Knapp. The ranch hosts educational seminars, retreats and outdoor activities.

Although initial costs for renewable energy power sources top those for fossil fuel-based ones, the effort saves money. Estimates for the ranch to run a gas-fueled generator over 20 years reach about $43,000, compared to the $35,000 to install and maintain the alternative methods for the same time period.

"It's not just theory," Moore said. "It's real world stuff."

 


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