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Energy

WNY company touts solar power's role in Haiti recovery

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Daniel Robison
/
WNED
Solar Liberty's Paige Mecca shows off a solar cooker that's similar to the 30 or so she's sent to Haiti.

Haiti's recovery remains in full effect since the Caribbean country was ravaged by an earthquake a year ago. While rebuilding efforts have been criticized for their torpor and disjointed nature, a Buffalo solar energy company is trying to provide help directly to the Haitian people.

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wned/local-wned-944943.mp3

For Paige Mecca, its back to basics in the country. She founded the Buffalo-based Solar Liberty Foundation. Haiti's disadvantages are so numerous and the focus on those has been so intense, Mecca says, that the potential for one of Haiti's best natural resources has been overlooked.

"As Haiti rebuilds, it's a perfect opportunity in this country that's right near the equator, to go with solar electrification right from the start as they're rebuilding," Mecca says.

While Mecca's organization was involved in Haiti before the earthquake, it has accelerated its efforts in the year since the quake. Mecca says installing solar systems on health clinics and schools brings power to those buildings much more quickly than relying on new electrical infrastructure.

"Even if there was a way to connect the electrical grid out into the rural areas in Haiti, fiscally it's just impossible at this time. It's been very difficult for the country even to build roads, let alone get power out," Mecca says.

Shipping supplies to Haiti is also still arduous, but Mecca has also managed to place more than 30 solar cookers with families in tent cities. The contraptions absorb heat from the sun and concentrate it in a small box that can cook food and pasteurize water. Mecca says lack of access to clean water has hastened the country's cholera outbreak, which has infected more than 100,000 Haitians.

"[The cooker has] no solar panel, no costly equipment, no moving parts. People love them because they can put their food in them, go do their work, come back and the meal is made," Mecca says.

Each cooker costs around $100. In the conditions that many tent city dwellers are facing, the cookers are a tool of survival.

"Many are living in tents right now, and guarding the [solar cookers] with their lives," Mecca says.

Also in the next year, Solar Liberty will send local technicians to Haiti to install solar panels on an orphanage.

"We will be providing solar electrification so that they have lighting for security, for reading, power for refrigeration, power for cooking, everything that we take for granted," Mecca says.

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