March 13th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 11
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
Mirrors in the Mountains
Looking Back
The tiny village of Viganella, Italy gets some sun
It is a hard fact of life that the town of Frank looses out on a lot of sunlight in the winter because of Turtle Mountain being immediately south of it. It is especially noticeable when one drives through that municipality in shade going either west or east and then remerges into the basking rays of the sun at Blairmore or Bellevue.

Winters can get pretty long in the tooth around here and what looked like an El Nino year in January turned out, in February, to be one of the coldest months on record. Some years Pass winters seem like never ending snow storms, ugly east winds, frigid cold temperatures and a distinct lack of sunlight. Season affective disorder (SAD) brought on by the lack of sunlight can make us sad, depressed and out of sorts. In places where it is really a problem sometimes phototherapy is prescribed. That is exposure to full-spectrum light.

Recently I learned of an innovative and unusual project in Norway that in part addresses this issue of lack of sun in winter in a rather unique way. This might just be the ticket for Frank. The town’s name is Rjukan (roo-kan) and it lies in Telemark County. It is situated in an east/west running valley with extremely high ridges (1000 meters plus) on either side. Kind of like one of those steep Norwegian fjords but with no water in it. Consequently in winter the town does not get any direct sunlight on it. For six months! Gasp..
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The town is where it is because of an engineer and industrialist by the name of Sam Eyde. Eyde realized that the Rjukanfossen waterfall in that valley (104 meters high) could be used for hydro generation which could then power a fertilizer plant (saltpetre). Sam was the head of Norsk Hydro for many years and by 1913 12,000 workers were in Rjokan building factories and the power plant.

There was only one problem. They left there in droves because there was just no sunlight in winter. So Sam built a cable car to hoist his workers up into the sunshine for rejuvenation. That two cable car system (one going up, one going down) is reported to be the oldest in Europe and is still running to this day taking sun-starved Rjokan’s up to touch the sun. Up until November of 2013 that was the only way to recharge your batteries. That town never saw the sun on its buildings throughout a good part of the winter. Good grief, how depressing!

But that all changed that year when a local life guard and artist by the name of Martin Andersen followed through on an idea he had had many years back. The idea was to reflect sunlight down into the town using giant mirrors. In fact Martin may have picked up on Sam Eyde’s idea in 1914 to do just that. Eyde looked at a mirror concept but unfortunately there wasn’t the technology available to pull this off back then. Martin on the other hand knew there was science that could make it happen. Andersen investigated another place that had done just that, a small sun-starved mountain village in Italy called Viganella.
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Viganella is in the very north of Italy near the Swiss border and is totally shadowed for 83 days of the year. So in 2006 a 1.1 ton 40 square meter mirror was installed up above the town. It functions as a heliostat, that is to say it tracks the sun so that sunlight always reflects onto the town square. It shines down on that tiny main square right in front of the church. The mayor claims a positive change came over the mood and behaviour of the inhabitants. Pierfranco Midali, the mayor, gives one example related to the Sunday Mass: “in winter time, people usually go back home right after the end of it, as opposed to the summer. But when, thanks to the mirror, the sun shined on the church and the village square, people did stay outside to discuss with each other.”

So Martin Andersen applied for an artist grant (5 million Norwegian krone) to erect the mirrors. Despite the scoffing and protests of most of the community, who felt there were better ways to spend that amount of money, he got his grant. The petitions, letter writing campaigns and facebook page could not stop this amazing idea. As so it was that November that Rjukan, a town with a very shady history, was bathed in light when old sol hit that massive array of mirrors.
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The array is three seventeen square meter German-made pivoting glass mirrors that are powered by solar panels and a small wind turbine. The reflectors move on two axis, are computer controlled and always reflect to the same spot, the town square. They readjust ever ten seconds to accomplish this. The 600 square meters of square, in the middle of town, is bathed in sunlight that is 80-90% as intense as the original.

When it was first activated the town had a big bash in the square, hauled in sand, set up a volleyball net and pulled out their lawn chairs. The naysayers were quickly converted and everyone loved it, basking in that giant spotlight of sunlight.

Is it art? Well, art should open your eyes and make you wonder according to Martin. He thinks his mirrors do just that. The square has benches that face north not south so that you are facing the reflected light. The mayor jokes that if they left the mirrors on in the summer you could get sunburned on both sides!
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So there it is Frank. If you are tired of being cloaked in darkness in the winter have I got an idea for you. That ridge off to your northwest, up high above you. Yup, Bluff (Goat) Mountain. You know, just about where that small radio antennae shack is on it. It is always in sunlight. It could have a mirror array set up on the south side of the ridge that would send a blast of light and vitamin D generating life right into the middle of your town. Perhaps a park could be built south of Highway 3 in the industrial area. Or perhaps the light could be focussed on the Frank Slide Interpretive Center and the offer made to tourists to stop by for a sunlight fix at the observation area. Whaddya think Frank? Why don’t you reflect on it a bit! We could bill it as: “Frank- Home to Canada’s Only Solspeilet” (sun mirror).

Author’s side note: There was at one time the world’s largest power plant (1934) built at the massive falls at Rjokan. The facility also had a hydrogen plant which, through a water electrolysis process, produced heavy water. Norsk Hydro was taken over by the Germans in World War ll to control this deuterium production for the eventual construction of a nuclear weapon. Oh yeah, that got the Allies attention, you can bet. A series of raids, some successful and some not, were conducted against the plant. Eventually a team of Norwegian commandos supported by the Allies managed to destroy this production. The 1965 movie The Heroes of Telemark, starring Kirk Douglas, depicted the historic sabotage at Rjokan. Today the plant is an industrial museum where the story of that successful raid (Operation Gunnerside) is told.
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March 13th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 11
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