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Community News

Carter shows off 'solar powered' scooter


POSTED: June 10, 2009

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document.getElementById('photoCaption').innerHTML = 'Solar-powered scooter: Linda Carter sits in a power scooter that has been in use for several years. But today, a solar-powered panel and new battery and new wiring has been added. Now the scooter can be used without having to stop and charge up batteries to the wall. Photo by Mel Toadvine.


It's the only thing like it in Lehigh Acres and even the state of Florida and Linda Carter, a member of LACPC, a member of the community policing committee of Weed and Seed, executive director of No Person left Behind in the county and active in other organizations, is telling everyone who'll listen about her solar-powered scooter that is used to get around Lehigh.

Due to back injuries while serving in Vietnam and complications from a heart condition and Diabetes, Carter can only get around using a power scooter when out of the house and for several years now has been dreaming of the day when someone could take the scooter and turn it into a solar machine so the scooter runs on power from the sun.

"That's free stuff," Carter said. "You don't have to pay for that power."

And with the new battery and canopy that takes rays from sunshine and turns them into electricity, Carter can even be self-sufficient when and if a hurricane or other disaster should strike.

"The solar batteries can also be used to provide electricity to light up lamps and to charge my cell phone, which also doubles as a GPS device so that when Carter is moving about Lehigh, there is no chance of getting lost.

The power scooter that Carter uses is around six years old. It's a Craftomatic and over the past six years, Carter said after traveling 10 miles, the battery goes dead.

Now with the solar gathering screen and new battery that sits under Carter's seat, the scooter can travel almost an unlimited amount of time and the battery has plenty of power.

The other day, Carter left the house on Homer Street near Lehigh Senior High School and drove all the way up to Lee Blvd., Homestead Rd., and places in between doing errands and testing the scooter and Carter had nothing but praise.

"I've driven this scooter 18 miles already and the power in the battery is still at 95 percent high ... and I have another five-mile trip home.

"What's great about my power scooter now is that the batter constantly is in charge mode.

I can charge it under any type of lighting inside and while it is outside, it is always charging.

You can't beat that," Carter said.

Now Carter's goal is to drive the scooter from the Bay Pines Veterans Hospital to Tallahassee "to show others who are disabled that you can be self-sufficient."

"They're my wheels," Carter said. With the new solar powered device, Carter said dependence on Mary Carter, a life partner, doesn't have to always take me to places, knowing that the old battery would not put out enough power to get back home.

Carter, who likes to be known around the community as Ms Carter, said she first heard of a man in Bonita who owns Gulf City Solar, who installed glass solar panels atop golf carts to make them run longer than old batteries would allow.

"I got in touch with William Heckenstaller and asked if he could do something for my power scooter. That was last August and he worked with me to make it happen," Carter said.

"But instead of glass, he used a plastic device as a solar panel with strips that absorb the energy from the sun," Carter said.

The whole job cost around $2,500 to make the change," Carter said. Working together to spread the word, Carter is now trying to get the word out to others who depend on power scooters to get around.

"It took several months for him to transfer the power scooter into a solar-powered unit. The wiring all had to be redone and the job became more than just making a few simple changes," Carter said.

The battery is about 14 by 14 inches and is located under the seat of the scooter. There is a controller box, something like a modem that Carter says is the brains that converts solar power into electricity that is stored in the battery.

Carter, who is on 50 percent military disability, also has Diabetes and some heart problems and has suffered a couple of strokes over the past few months. But she doesn't let that keep her home. As soon as the doctor says go, Carter's back on the street or sidewalks of Lehigh, attending meetings, and running errands.

The solar panel is made so it can snap off and fold up when traveling in a van.

"I like to say to people that it makes power while using power and knowing that you are not going to run out of battery power, well that gives you a whole lot of feelings of self-sufficiency, that you don't always have to depend on someone to come and get you and load up the power scooter to take home to charge it up again.

"It's like those carts in Wal-Mart ... so many times you can't get one because they are plugged into the wall getting a charge. Well if they had this type of device, they would never have to recharge them because the lights from the ceiling will provide the power to keep the battery full of electricity," Carter said.

"There's only one like this in the whole U.S.," Carter said. The gentleman who made the makeover to the scooter has four patents on the materials, Carter said. "We've found out that by using plastic instead of glass for the solar panels makes it easier to maintain. For one thing, is is much lighter than having glass over your head and it is also safer if there should be an accident," Carter said.

Ever since Carter has been forced to get around in a power chair, there is "one bothersome thing." And that's the absence of sidewalks in Lehigh.

"I travel wherever I can on sidewalks and when they disappear, I travel on the side of the roadway or street," Carter said. I travel the same way as traffic goes. You'll find sidewalk in some places and then they disappear and it's on the other side of the street in some areas.

"I don't go back and forth across the street because of the danger of someone hitting me," Carter said. The power chair travels around 5 miles per hour.

Carter can't wait for her and Mary to show their grandchildren the new power chair. They have two grown daughters. One is married and one is not, Carter said.

"The grandkids would really like this scooter," Carter laughed.