In 1997, I purchased the Columbia Box Board mill in Chatham, NY. The mill was the economic engine for Chatham for a hundred years, and closed its doors in 1996. It left behind over 100,000 square feet of space in various conditions of deterioration and usability. I moved operations of Kling Magnetics, my magnetic product manufacturing business, into a separate 20,000 square foot building on the property. I looked out daily at the huge, unused space and the creeping deterioration that invariably befalls abandoned buildings. I understood I was looking at the problem of lost manufacturing in the United States and the resulting blight and unemployment. The waterfall over the dam reminded me that renewable energy sited this mill here in the first place. It was a eureka moment. I saw a return to carbon-free energy, using sunlight and water, powering an entire mill.
In 2004, I created Sundog Solar Inc., a solar design and installation business that also does energy audits and spray foam and cellulose insulation. Sundog employs over 20 people, has put millions of dollars into the local economy, and has installed over one million watts of solar on local businesses, homes and not-for-profits. Our latest endeavor is to build renewable trainers for community colleges. These include solar thermal and photovoltaic as well as wind trainers. We have been manufacturing them for over 2 years and selling them nationally. In 2006 I took out an Energy Smart Loan through NYSERDA for $225,000 and began renovating my 20,000 square foot, cinder-block building. This building is now carbon neutral, super-insulated with closed-cell spray foam, heated with used vegetable oil, solar water heated, and powered by a solar photovoltaic system. I am ready to broaden these adaptive reuse technologies to the adjacent mill. The economic benefits of this rehabilitation are enormous. Instead of a deteriorating eyesore for countless years to come, we can have an economically vital and aesthetically pleasing presence in our community that will create new jobs and have businesses with reduced energy costs. The Solaqua project has been in development for the past seven years. I have consulted with community leaders, government officials, and the workers who make this all happen. Everyone has greeted Solaqua as a blast of oxygen.