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Solar Splash Returns to Hoyt Lake for Second Year

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – For the second year in a row, Buffalo will host the Solar Splash World Championship and Boat Regatta. Teams from two dozen colleges and universities from across the nation -- and even a couple of high schools -- will be competing in solar power boats they've developed.

The solar splash competition came here for the first time last year. And participants apparently enjoyed it so much that the event is returning this year, June 19th through the 23rd. Local organizer Laurie Dann says hosting back-to-back championships is something the area can be proud of.

"We were competing against several other cities, which were very aggressive," Dann said. "(Solar Splash) thought the venue here was just perfect. We have more sun than most people think we do. It was a very successful event last year, and they wanted to come back."

The setting is picturesque -- Delaware Park's Hoyt Lake. Imagine the scene on a warm and sunny day as the boats make their way under the lake's two bridges near the History Museum and then travel past the Japanese Gardens. Local tourism officials say that has great appeal to people coming here from outside the region. But Ed Healy of the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau says watching the competition in such a setting is attractive even to area residents.

"We have an initiative called 'be a tourist in your own backyard.' So, we think, regionally, there will be a lot of interest for people to come to see this event," Healy said. "In terms of public relations, we hope to reach national boating magazines. Last year, CNN was here. It's an opportunity to reach beyond the region and really help to enhance the city's image."

Perhaps the person most responsible for bringing Solar Splash here was Joan Bozer. She was attending a solar energy conference in Wisconsin last year when she learned about the competition. While an Erie County Legislator, Bozer was a champion of alternative energy. And that passion hasn't diminished.

"I think the more we can exhibit and demonstrate that solar works, and especially that it works in a city like Buffalo, that will encourage businesses to look at manufacturing these technologies in Buffalo," Bozer said. "There's no reason why we can't manufacture solar (powered devices) and wind mills or anything else having to do with renewable energy."

Last year when Solar Splash was first held here, the team from the University of South Carolina won the sprint competition. Marquette University captured the endurance race. The team from the University at Buffalo was recognized for having the outstanding rookie team. One of its members Jeremiah Rauch says he was never a boater. It's the engineering challenge that appealed to him. This year, the team will use a new state-of-the-art motor to power the UB boat. Gasoline powered motors are some of the most polluting. But as he held the solar-powered motor in his hands yesterday, Rauch says that's not a problem here.

"We're not going to pollute the air with carbon dioxide here, which means there are no greenhouse gases," Rauch explained. "It's very clean. We could run these boats forever, as long as there's a sun in the sky. There's no gasoline going into them. And they're very quiet. You would not notice these (boats) on the river."

And this new technology will likely be used more frequently in the future, according to Dr. John Montague. He's a professor of technology at Buffalo State College. Montague, an avid sailor, says solar-powered boats would be ideal for travel along the Erie Canal.

"We're considering starting a project this fall of building a solar boat for the canal," Montague said. "That would be very practical because you have flat water and you really don't need speed as much because (canal boats) can't travel more than five, six, seven miles per hour."

Interestingly, the skies don't have to be 100 percent sunny for solar splash. When the sun is shining brightly, boaters store up the solar energy in batteries for use when the skies do cloud up.

The UB team says don't expect them to have home-lake advantage. They're doing most of their preparation on Lake LaSalle on the North campus and won't get a chance to try out Hoyt Lake until the competition itself.