Arizona Public Services Gift of the Sun to Condors (<i>adapted from APS staff notes on the project</i>)
28 November 2006
Standing on the Paria Plateau atop northern Arizona's Vermilion Cliffs, four APS employees admired the solar unit they had just installed. The unit will make life much easier for field biologists for The Peregrine Fund and improve the work they do to preserve these amazing giant birds.
They installed two solar powered telephone poles equipped with shock aversion units to keep California Condors from landing on them. One is located in the large fly pen and the other is close to the feeding site. The estimated donation of staff time, labor and equipment is around $25,000.
In early November, Arizona Public Services (APS) brought up a 3,000 pound array of nine solar panels – enough to supply 30 amps of power to the holding pen and a field lab on top of the cliffs. This will keep the water supply thawed through the winter, make it possible to utilize video cameras for remote observation, and supply electricity directly to the field lab.
The project is at an elevation of more than 6,000 feet on Bureau of Land Management property. In winter, the birds' drinking water often froze. Project personnel had to enter the fly pen to break through the ice. This situtation was not ideal as every effort is made to minimize condor-human interaction.
Getting the solar unit to its final destination was no simple task. When the solar unit arrived in Prescott, Arizona, the backup generator did not work. After a few hiccups in getting the correct parts, the unit was loaded onto a dual-wheeled, diesel-powered, four-wheel drive flatbed truck for the drive to the release site. It took two additional four-wheel drive trucks and a trailer just to get all of the equipment to the base of the cliffs. Once there, the final parts were installed and all systems were tested and operating correctly. Now for the tough part – a climb of nearly 800 feet. With two trucks in front and three in back, the flatbed began its slow, painstaking journey to a place few people have seen. Inches of pale strawberry colored, talc-fine sand covered a deeply rutted trail that was barely wide enough for a single vehicle. In places, sand drifted across layers of red sandstone that resembled steep flights of uneven stairs. At the final part of the climb, it took two trucks to tow the flatbed up the slope and into position to unload the solar unit.
Reaching the site late morning, a quick inspection showed the panels had arrived undamaged! The team then unloaded using 2x4 sections to make a ramp allowing the unit to be slowly winched off the truck and onto the ground. As the crew worked, a rising wind ushered in a sharp drop in temperature and replaced the swarming gnats with never-ending swirls of powder-fine dust that coated equipment and people alike.
A little after 2:00 pm it was time to test it out. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as word came across the hand-held radio from the holding pen: "We have 120 volts!" Success. And, through it all, previously released California Condors soared overhead and above the valley far below.
The Peregrine Fund staff repeatedly expressed their appreciation to APS for donating the equipment and especially for the tremendous efforts to get things in place and working. Chris Parish, Condor Field Project Supervisor for The Peregrine Fund said, "When condors have human contact, it delays their release into the wild by up to a year. Having electricity here is a huge benefit that allows us to remotely conduct our work and reduce direct interactions."
APS employee, Scott Paulsen said, "We took this project because we wanted to do something that could make a long-term difference. With the benefits this will provide both the birds and the people working with them, the birds' population should continue to increase. And we can say that APS played a part in it. How cool is that?"
APS Employees that assisted with this project: Richard Berdahl, Tom Fletcher, Peter Johnston, Bret Minnihan, Scott Paulsen, Jeff Spohn, and Bill Zawicki.