August 24, 2007

Zzyzx facility to get new solar panels

By JASON SMITH Staff Writer
Desert Dispatch [Barstow, CA]

Thanks to a federal grant, an educational center in the Mojave National Preserve will be getting new solar panels. The new panels will expand the power-generating capabilities of the California Desert Studies center at Zzyzx within the preserve.

The project will be 50 percent funded by the National Parks Service as part of a national program to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the parks service. The remaining funds will be paid by the group that operates the facility, a group of seven California State colleges, said Larry Whalon, acting deputy superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve.

“It’s a good show of support from the Bush Administration for the national parks,” he said.

The centennial anniversary of the parks service will occur in 2016, but increased federal funds were put aside for improvement projects in the 2008 fiscal year. The preserve also might apply for funds to operate a Barstow-to-Kelso Depot rail line and to acquire more land, Whalon said.

William Presch, director of the consortium that manages the study center, said the 12-building complex needs more power-generating capacity. The facility includes housing for as many as 70 researchers.

Presch said the solar panels will teach students about environmental sustainability in the harsh desert environment. The facility currently uses diesel and propane generators in addition to its existing solar panels. The center is completely self-sustaining and treats its own wastewater.

“We have nothing coming in from the outside. We are completely off the grid,” Presch said.

The 1,200 acre facility receives an average of 20 users each day and 7,200 each year, Presch said. The majority of visitors are undergraduate students of biology, geology, astronomy and other subjects. Graduate researchers are also able to use the facility.

Recent research projects have included sand movement, earthquake research and studies of plant and insects. The Mars landers were tested at the facility before being sent to space, Presch said.

Construction of the panels will begin in March and be finished by October 2008.