FALMOUTH — Things are humming at the Falmouth Ice Arena, which opened its doors a little more than a month ago as the sparkling new home of the town’s youth hockey program. There’s a fireplace in the lobby, the promise of its welcoming winter glow only a stick-length or two away from the requisite snack bar and pro shop. An impressive array of pictures covers the lobby walls, chronicling a half-century of the town’s hockey and ice skating heritage.
But what really makes the place something special is its unique relationship with the sun, that quintessential Cape Cod tourist attraction. Forever the enemy of good ice everywhere, be it for rinks or drinks or cherry-red slush cones, the sun is what makes the new rink run. Solar panels cover most of the roof. The same panels, displayed as if pirated from the set of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” are perched on a huge, expansive canopy that is fashioned carport-style over a large swath of the parking lot.
Want to go for a skate? Here on fun-in-the-sun Cape Cod, tucked away in a technology park roughly 10 miles south of the Bourne Bridge, that hunk a hunk of burning love in the sky is delivering the big chill for the 49,000-square-foot arena.
According to the building’s general manager, Joel Irving, the 3,300 or so panels will harvest about 950,000 kilowatt hours worth of juice each year — give or take a cloud-covered Saturday in August — and that’s enough to provide the arena with all the electric energy it needs.
That’s not to say the rink is getting a free ride from Mother Nature, in part because the excess energy collected by the panels, owned and operated by ConEdison Solutions, is routed to NSTAR, and then rerouted back to the building, if needed. For the millions it cost ConEdison to install the power system, Falmouth Ice Arena will pay it back over time, buying back the energy at a reduced cost. The end result: instead of paying out about $14,000 a month to keep the lights on, to keep the arena’s 1½ ice sheets frozen, and to rev up its two electric Zambonis, it will now cost upward of $6,500 per month.
In hockey terms, and in new-age energy lingo, it’s a pretty nice power play.
“Yeah, sure, it’s nice being green, no doubt about it,’’ said the pragmatic Irving, proudly walking the works with a visitor last week, “but it’s also nice to save money, too.’’
The arena, owned and operated by Falmouth Youth Hockey, isn’t alone in the sunshine-and-skate business, though Irving believes the one here is the solar piece de resistance, built at a cost of some $6 million. Ice arenas in New Jersey, Maryland, and Missouri in recent years have retrofitted their buildings with solar panels, all with the aim of paring down ever-increasing electric costs, by far any ice rink’s biggest ongoing expenditure.
Based on numbers provided by Irving, electricity in the Falmouth area costs about 17 cents per kilowatt hour. The annual demand of the new building, if the sun weren’t providing its muscle, would cost approximately $165,000.
“And that’s based, too, on the fact that we built a very energy-efficient building,’’ said Irving, noting such specifics as increased insulation in walls and ceiling. “An inefficient building this size, with a full sheet and a half-sheet, you could easily be at $200,000 a year. We should be right around $75,000. So we’re saving at least 50 percent.’’
The trickledown from the meter means that the new rink is renting its large (regulation) sheet for $220 an hour and the half-sheet for $132, rates in keeping with, or slightly lower than, much of the Eastern Mass. market.
“Unlike most rinks,’’ mused Irving, “we root for sunny days.’’
The new rink has created a buzz around town, not so much in a skating sense, said Irving, but because of the curiosity factor related to the solar bells and whistles. Truth is, other than the striking carport display, it looks and feels like most community rinks, shinier and spiffier though because it has that new-rink smell and patina. The building actually opened prior to the solar power system being activated, but the switch was flipped last Friday, and Irving reported Wednesday that the transition was both seamless and uneventful, not something your average rink rat would notice.
“I’d give you a reading of how it’s doing,’’ Irving offered by telephone, “but there’s a software component involved, and the guy who’s doing that part is on vacation.’’
Hey, it’s the Cape, and people are supposed to be on vacation. It’s why it was invented. All that sand, the glorious residue of the glaciers that once covered this part of the world, is there for a reason . . . for beaches, miniature golf courses, fried clam shacks, salt water taffy, and of course the solar-powered rink that provides glistening glacial sheets for figure skaters, hockey players, and double-runnered dreamers.
“If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air . . . Quaint little villages here and there . . . You’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod. If you like the taste of lobster stew . . . Served by a window with an ocean view . . . You’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod.’’
OK, an ice rink isn’t exactly what had Patti Page singing. But for skaters, it’s a whole new world down there on the Cape, where the skater’s waltz has been turned into a solar serenade.