Topsham education alliance blazes trail with solar-powered cart

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TOPSHAM — The Cathance River Education Alliance has a new solar-powered cart. Now all it needs is sunshine.

A rooftop panel weighing only 3.75 pounds is powering the alliance’s trail maintenance golf cart. A State Farm Insurance grant to the alliance’s sustainability education programs funded the project.

The cutting-edge amorphous silicon panel has three layers, each made to capture a different portion of solar light. It charges the cart’s batteries on cloudy days, and sends a constant 1.35-amp charge to the cart’s 48-volt battery pack.

Rick Wilson, executive director of the alliance, said the organization needed a cart for a variety of purposes, such as carrying items into its headquarters from its parking lot to conducting trail work. While Highland Green loaned the alliance a gas-powered cart, the ecology education-driven organization purchased a used electric vehicle.

“And the next logical progression was to look at if we can have some type of solar element with the cart,” Wilson said.

The panel prolongs the cart’s battery power with a longer charge, Wilson said. While the battery from the electric cart can be charged by means other than a solar panel, “the length of time … is shortened by the augmentation of the solar canopy.”

Wilson said the panel cost about $1,300. The chassis of the cart was then given a 6-inch lift and all-terrain tires in order to more easily ride the trails.

The panel is relatively easy to install, Wilson said, mentioning a YouTube video showing a 10-year-old attaching one to a vehicle. “Just roll it out, attach two wires in the right place and you’re good to go,” he said.

Wilson said the cart, which can carry four passengers, is also being used to transport people with disabilities or who have trouble getting to the Cathance River. The Barnes Leap trail has been improved to facilitate trips by cart to the river. Many residents of the Highlands, Highland Green and members of the public can benefit from those rides.

“It’s been a great feature,” Wilson said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or

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Solar Cart Pic.jpgTaking a ride on the Cathance River Education Alliance’s new solar-powered golf cart are, clockwise from left, Ben Wilson, alliance sustainability intern Weston Shepherd, trails intern Eric Berube and Mae Wilson. Ben and Mae Wilson are the children of Rick Wilson, executive director of the alliance.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.