The Long Beach Martin Luther King Center has upgraded its energy system so it can provide light, heat and electricity to residents during future storms and emergencies.
The $130,000 project was one of several in the state that are part of a joint effort between Global Green and National Grid to make communities that were extensively damaged by Hurricane Sandy more resilient in recovering from natural disasters.
Representatives of the two companies as well as SunPower by EmPower Solar, the MLK Center and the city gathered in the center on Oct. 26 to announce its transformation into what they called a “climate-resilient disaster-preparedness hub.”
The upgrades are part of Global Green’s Solar for Sandy effort that launched in 2013, aiming to install solar systems in community hubs to better prepare them for future storms like Sandy. The announcement fell three days before the fifth anniversary of Sandy.
Kathleen Wisnewski, National Grid’s community and customer manager, recalled visiting the MLK Center in the days after the storm and supplying locals with essential items like toiletries and flashlights. She commended the center’s leaders — including board Chairman James Hodge — for providing a place of refuge and emergency relief for storm victims. “Standing here today brings me back,” Wisnewski said. “Such memories of coming here in the beginning following Sandy, and seeing James and the MLK team and partnering with National Grid employees. We were here for days, weeks, months, bringing in supplies, and what a great opportunity for us all.”
The center played a critical role in the community after the storm, serving as a supply distribution site and providing residents with hot meals, showers and laundry service. “The MLK Center was one of the main hubs of activity after the storm,” City Manager Jack Schnirman said. “If people needed to eat, they got that. If they needed water — whatever they needed — this was one of those places, and we kept that up for months.”
SunPower by EmPower Solar employees installed a 15-kilowatt solar system on the roof of the center consisting of 51 solar panels, CEO David Schieren said, which will produce enough energy to cover about 20 percent of the building’s year-round electricity needs. It is expected to save the center about $2,900 per year.
Additionally, an LED lighting system — which replaced lights that Hodge said were decades old — was installed by Haber Electric, and is expected to produce another $5,600 in annual savings. City officials added that a battery backup system will be installed early next year.
“This project will reduce our carbon footprint in the face of the real threat of climate change,” Schnirman said. “This will provide a resilient shelter, a place of refuge now and forever for our community in the event of future severe storms, and will be at the cutting edge of renewable technology once the battery backup system is installed.”
Schnirman also thanked the city’s Public Works Department for its efforts to secure funding, and noted that the city has been gradually rebuilding other parts of the center since Sandy, including the gym, the roof, the kitchen and classrooms.
“The recent hurricanes in the Gulf and wildfires in California demonstrate that communities need to act now to prepare for a changing climate,” Global Green Executive Director Walker Wells said in a statement. “Through the partnership between Global Green, National Grid and the city of Long Beach, we are both enhancing community assets and shaping a model that other communities can replicate.”
“Five years after Sandy, we continue along the pathway to recovery,” City Councilwoman Chumi Diamond added, “and this project is yet another symbol of how Long Beach has become a model of resiliency, and continues to lead the way in sustainability. The MLK Center serves an important role in our community, and this project will strengthen it for future storms as well as reducing our carbon footprint and lowering energy costs.”