ParkWiFi to be green with solar power

Batteries for the 400 access points will be charged using solar panels

Municipal Wi-Fi will be green in St. Louis Park, Minn., where city officials and a contractor are installing 400 access points powered by the sun.

The network, called ParkWiFi, is designed to provide wireless Internet coverage across all 10 square miles of the city, a suburb of Minneapolis with 44,000 residents, according to the city and Arinc Inc., the Annapolis, Md.-based contractor on the project.

Each access point will have a battery to supply power and a solar panel to keep the battery charged, Arinc said yesterday. Fiber-optic cable will tie the access points into a network.

Most of the access points and solar panels will be mounted on 16-ft. poles that are painted dark brown, residents having raised concerns to the City Council about the aesthetics of the poles and their locations when the first poles were erected in April, according to the city's Web site.

Similar to debates in hundreds of communities nationally over the location of much-larger cellular towers, city officials in many locations have tried to avoid a similar debate with Wi-Fi by placing the access points on buildings or utility poles.

The initiative began last year with approval of a partnership between the city and Unplugged Cities LLC.

Clint Pires, CIO for St. Louis Park, said his city is the first in the U.S. to combine Wi-Fi and solar panels so widely.

"Our decision to use solar power reflects the city's philosophy of environmental stewardship, but we also expect to save $40,000 to $50,000 each year by using solar power instead of electric utility connections," Pires said in a statement. The savings is because of the elimination of the cost of paying the electric utility monthly fees for attaching the APs to utility poles and for the electricity to run them, Arinc said.

The network is expected to be start running in October, according to Arinc. However, the city said that residents' concerns over the poles delayed the rollout by six weeks, and the changes they requested will add $150,000 in costs.

Homeowners and businesses will be able to buy wireless broadband service over the network, priced from about $15 to $30 a month, plus the cost of a gateway device to improve the signal for about $5 a month, the city and Arinc said.

The city will retain ownership of the network and is paying some upfront costs, but subscription fees are expected to pay for the system, according to city records.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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