Columbia Island: A Weird Past and Promising Future

Columbia Island: A Weird Past and Promising Future


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Evolution of Columbia Island

The evolution of Columbia Island reads like an outlandish adventure or historical novel – and now, a direct peek into the present and future of well-integrated renewable energy.

A radio transmission center was built in 1941 on the two-acre island near New Rochelle, NY by CBS, only to be purportedly used for secret military purposes during WWII. CBS decommissioned the transmission center after a pilot crashed there in 1967, killing five. CBS then sold the island to Peter Lind Hayes, a radio announcer, who in turn, donated the island to the College of New Rochelle. The college owned the island for about 20 years before deeding it to their caretaker, who held it for about 20 years. In 2007, it was sold it to Al Sutton, an MD, film producer, and human rights activist now convert-ing the former commer-cial building into a residence.

When Sutton acquired the island, it was mired in disrepair. After a false start with one contractor, he turned to Marine Solutions, a Long Island outfit known for its inventive use of marine materials and equipment to refinish, repair, and restore boats and buildings in marine environments. Harry Hunt, the company’s proprietor, has overseen a large scale rebuilding and renovation process on the island, casting aside the dilapidated transmission center, broken windows, and other fading remnants from the island in favor of green energy systems.

Building a Renewable Environment 

A key part of the rebuilding process involved turning the island into a self-generating power environment. The island’s current energy self-sufficiency is driven by its 60 solar panels and solar storage capability. The panels and solar storage units were installed three years ago and are supported by 6 Xantrex 6,000-watt inverters. The island uses 7,000 to 8,000 kilowatts of solar energy at peak periods. It also utilizes the solar panels, inverters, and 40 lead-acid batteries packed with 48 volts to store solar energy. Provisions have been made to supplement the solar/clean energy component with diesel fuel, primarily for two 45-kilowatt Mastry MasPower generators in the kitchen area, but so far there has been virtually no need to rely on that fuel.

Plans are afoot to install wind turbines on the island in the not too distant future. However, Columbia Island’s next door neighbor, Pea Island, will feature a large wind turbine, pending permit approval. Another key challenge, fresh water needs, was addressed by Marine Solutions with its Village Marine Tech reverse osmosis system.

Given its unusual history, it’s not surprising to hear that Hunt has plans to write a book about the island’s history. Certainly, Columbia Island’s strategy serves as an inspiration to others to maximize their use of renewable sources, even in the most obscure locations.

What do you do with a broken-down island? Turn it into a model of sustainable solar living, if you’re among those on New York’s Columbia Island.

By Michael Mascioni


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