Chippewa Falls and Altoona residents will soon be able to head outside to charge up their devices.

Two park developments have received solar-powered “charging benches” — park benches where people can plug in and charge their devices — donated from Xcel Energy.

Xcel has donated solar-powered benches to several Wisconsin redevelopments, especially communities that are building or improving parks, said Xcel Energy spokesperson Chris Ouellette.

In addition to benches in Chippewa Falls and Altoona and solar charging stations in Eau Claire, Xcel has donated solar fixtures in Osceola, Shell Lake and Bayfield, Ouellette said: “It’s a way for us to give back to our communities.”

Three of the newest solar-powered benches sit overlooking the Hydro Dam in Chippewa Falls’ Riverfront Park, near the city’s downtown.

Xcel donated the benches in late 2018, and city workers installed them in the new park in early spring 2019, said Chippewa Falls city planner Brad Hentschel.

Solar strips mounted on the backs of the benches provide energy for people to plug in cell phones or other devices.

Since the benches aren’t connected to a power source, installation costs for the benches were very small; city staff simply bolted the benches to the surface, Hentschel said.

The Chippewa Falls community has welcomed the charging benches, Hentschel said: “A lot of people have been utilizing them. They’re actually quite a fast charge.”

The city plans to install wireless internet throughout the new park sometime in 2020. That will likely bring even more people to solar charging stations, Hentschel said: “I think they’ll even become more valuable for people who want to read a book on their device, have a laptop or an iPad … to enjoy the environment and relax and still be plugged in.”

Xcel donated a similar bench to the city of Altoona, said Altoona city planner Joshua Clements. It’s planned to be installed in spring 2020 near a playground in the River Prairie development.

Since the park will be next to a walkway, the city will need to pour a slab of concrete to install the bench, Clements said.

The bench will have several ports to charge phones, as well as a standard electrical outlet, he said: “The purpose is largely to raise awareness about solar energy.”

Xcel has also donated solar fixtures to the city of Eau Claire. Instead of benches, the city chose four solar charging stations; they were donated in 2018.

The city is still eyeing possible locations for three of those stations, said city engineer Dave Solberg.

The stations include an upright pole, a small table attached with charging ports and solar panels mounted on top.

The city installed one station in the Farmer’s Market Pavilion in Phoenix Park, but a couple months later it was vandalized, Solberg said. Items were inserted into the station’s charging ports and broken off, making the ports unusable.

The paint on a second charging station began showing wear, so the city is working with a manufacturer to receive a replacement, Solberg said.

“We’re looking at traffic patterns through Haymarket Plaza, Phoenix Park and West Grand Plaza when that is complete next year,” Solberg said. “...We have three more we’re looking to install at locations that may be less vandalism-prone, but still around the downtown area.”

Ouellette said solar-powered charging fixtures are aimed directly at impacting community members.

“It’s a neat, more tangible thing the whole community can really benefit from,” Ouellette said.

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