Beachcomber owner sees the light on solar power

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Beachcomber owner sees the light on solar power

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By PILAR ULIBARRI de RIVERA
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

On a recent sunny afternoon, the breeze off the Atlantic rocked a hammock about 100 yards away on the tropically landscaped property of Florida’s oldest continuous residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.

The Beachcomber, which sits in a small pocket of unincorporated land just north of Gulf Stream, was a leader in the local recovery field when the late James Bryan founded it in 1976.

The Beachcomber, established in 1976, plans to install a solar power system to produce hot water. The addiction rehabilitation center can have as many as 20 people residing at the facility, using a lot of hot water. Solar energy is also used for landscape lights, which line The Beachcomber’s pathways.

Now, it’s about to break new ground again by going green with its energy conservation. Executive director Joe Bryan said the center soon will begin using solar power to heat its water.

"The reason we’re doing it is threefold," said Bryan, son of the center’s founder. "We will save money, produce less of a carbon imprint and hopefully use less imported oil."

At any given time, 16 patients and Bryan’s four-member family live on The Beachcomber property. That’s a lot of showers, laundry and washing dishes.

Because of all the energy used at the facility, which looks more like a quaint old-Florida inn than a place people go to battle addictions, Bryan knew he had to do something.

He had heard of solar-thermal energy. But, it wasn’t until his friend Greg Seville called to talk about it that he was completely sold on the idea.

Seville owns a new Stuart-based company called U.S. Energy Conservation and educates people on the benefits of renewable energy, including solar power.

"You don’t need to convince people in Florida that the sun heats things up," he said. "It is the most efficient source of power we have and the technology is at its peak."

Seville said the idea is to get other recovery centers in the state to switch too.

"Any place where there is a large group of people, there is going to be a lot of hot water used," he said.

According to an analysis done of Bryan’s facility, Seville said that by switching to solar water heating The Beachcomber will prevent 59.4 extra tons of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas, from going into the atmosphere each year.

"That is the equivalent of removing 11 mid-size cars from the road each year," he said.

Bryan said he comes from a conservationist family. His mother was in the Audubon Society and spent years working with sea turtle conservation. He grew up in the Boy Scouts, as did his brother who is now a forester.

Bryan knows what he is doing at the center might not seem like much but, "if other people do it, we could really make a big difference," he said. "People are definitely going to start looking at this closer."

Even Florida Power & Light Co. recently announced it would build a 300-megawatt solar-thermal operation.

"It will be the largest solar power plant in the country," Seville said. "And it’ll just be a larger version of what will be at The Beachcomber."

Seville said this would be a great step for Florida.

"Did you know the United States makes up 5 percent of the world’s population but we consume 26 percent of its energy," Seville asked. "And Florida ranks No. 3 in the states in energy consumption."

He said when it comes to energy consumption; water heating is the second-largest user in homes and businesses, next to air conditioning.

"The great thing about switching to a solar-thermal system is that there is no change in lifestyle; you turn on the water and it’s hot when you need it to be," Seville said. "But it’s much more efficient because there is no waste; the sun does all the work."

And although installing 11 flat-plate solar collectors on The Beachcomber property won’t be cheap, the investment will pay for itself in three years, Seville said. Plus, there are state and federal incentives to installing them.

"Either way, you’re going to end up paying for it," he said. "In the long run, this will be better for the bottom line and the environment."

Bryan, who also recently installed solar-powered garden lights around his property, is looking forward to both benefits.

"There is a tremendous amount of energy here and it’s just falling out of the sky," Seville said. "We might as well put it to good use."