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Solar backup systems coming to 4 southern Brooklyn libraries

State to outfit four southern Brooklyn libraries with solar backup systems for emergency use

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The Mill Basin library branch will soon be outfitted with solar panels and a backup power system.
Photo by Jordan Rathkopf

The Brooklyn Public Library is outfitting the roofs of four southern Brooklyn literary emporiums with solar energy backup systems that guarantee the lights stay lit — and providing the area with much-needed safe havens during emergencies.

A representative from local nonprofit Solar One told Community Board 18 on Feb. 17 that they’re partnering with the borough’s system of book repositories to install solar panels atop four structures —  the Mill Basin, Kings Highway, Coney Island, and Gerritsen Beach branches. 

The nearly-$1 million project for all four branches is being funded through the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, and is one of many projects that will be occurring in the borough’s coastal areas to better prepare for emergency situations. 

“In 2017, Solar One partnered with the Governor’s Office to figure out solutions to help with community recovery after power outages,” Angelica Ramdhari of Solar One said. “So there was this really large grassroots effort to figure out how to help individuals and businesses and nonprofits recover after Superstorm Sandy.”

News of the renewable energy systems comes as residents of Texas suffered days of blackouts after unusual weather conditions froze natural gas pipes and nearly knocked out the state’s power grid. 

In the event of a power outage in their surrounding area, the Brooklyn libraries’ solar panels would disconnect from the power grid and instead use the installed battery system, which stores about a day’s worth of power. 

With enough sunlight, the solar panels will recharge the battery for the next day’s use, according to Ramdhari. 

“The batteries enable you to have a small power grid on your rooftop, so you don’t need Con Edison to produce power for you,” Ramdhari said.”You are producing your own power and consuming it on site.” 

Residents can go to the library to charge their electronic devices or utilize any emergency services that may be available during a power outage, but regular library services wouldn’t be available during this time. 

“The idea is that if the power goes out in your community you would be able to go into this building to have access inside an insulated space,” Ramdhari said, “where you could charge your cell phones, charge computers, charge power tools and have access to resources that might be available during times of emergency.” 

But even still, Ramdhari warned, the library is not meant to be a place for people to stay during a power outage, and will only be open at specific hours of the day. 

“It is not meant to be a shelter. It is going to be open for a dedicated amount of hours per day and it is going to be open as long as the power is out,” Ramdhari said.

At the Mill Basin branch, the solar panels will be installed on a canopy that will be raised seven feet over the library’s roof, Ramdhari said and is projected to be put in place by the end of the year. 

While many welcomed the backup power system, Assemblymember Jaime Williams and some community board members lamented that Canarsie — another neighborhood heavily hit by Superstorm Sandy and where there are two libraries — was being left out of the program. 

“I just feel as though Canarsie sometimes is put on the back burner,” said the politician who represents a chunk of neighborhoods in southeastern Brooklyn, “and their library should have been included.” 

Ramdhari said logistics like access to sunlight prevented them from using certain library branches, but Solar One is working with another organization to bring renewable energy to the neighborhood. 

“We looked at all Brooklyn Public Library sites for the ones that can actually host these systems,” Ramdhari said. “The likely thing that happened with the Canarsie branch is that the building was getting too much shade from other buildings or there was some other design constraint that made doing systems there impossible. “

Solar One representatives will present their plans to each library’s respective community board. Plans for the Kings Highway branch will be presented to Sheepshead Bay’s Community Board 15 on Feb. 23.

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