"Green" billboard ready to light up Times Square

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The world’s first billboard running solely on wind and solar power is ready to make its debut in the capital of all billboards -- New York’s Times Square.

Wind whistling between the neighborhood’s skyscrapers should keep the giant billboard lit constantly, said the manufacturer, Japanese copy and photo giant Ricoh Company Ltd.

The “Eco-Board” weighs 35,000 pounds (15,800 kg) and will be powered by 16 vertical wind turbines and 64 solar panels.

“We wanted to make a statement that we can put up a advertisement and not impact the environment, so that began the journey to Times Square,” Ricoh spokesman Ron Potesky said.

A highly congested part of midtown Manhattan, Times Square is home to hundreds of huge, brightly lit billboards and video screens.

Potesky said the power generated from the custom-built wind turbines will account for 95 percent of the energy needed to run the sign, which is 47 feet high by 126 feet long, and carries the company’s name in huge red letters.

“On the corner of 42nd (Street) and 7th (Avenue) there is a lot of wind. So we expect that this will be lit 24 hours a day seven days a week, mainly by wind power, a little bit by the sun,” he said.

Pedestrians hide under umbrellas as the remnants of Tropical Storm Hanna drench the city of New York September 6, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The turbines, built specifically for the project by California wind technology company PacWind LLC, are installed vertically. PacWind CEO Mary Watkins said the design was extremely efficient in comparison to traditional propeller types.

“They make more energy than typical turbines, traditional style, because they can spin for longer amounts of time,” she said in an interview.

“When other turbines have to stop spinning because the wind is too high, our turbines can keep going and the higher the wind the more power they produce.”

But Potesky said the project is not cheap, costing in excess of $1 million for the technology and installation alone.

“Yes we are spending money. We are spending money on Times Square property and we are paying for the technology, but we are not paying for energy,” Potesky said.

“That billboard will be lit by the wind and the sun and that will be free. So we think there is a long-term payback but a short-term investment.”

The largest environmental factor and the biggest difference between Ricoh’s board and its neighbors’ in Times Square is what it will not be producing -- 18 tons (16 metric tons) of carbon annually.

Potesky says he hopes other companies follow the example.

“You could light a city for a year if we just converted billboards to non-fossil-fuel-based energy,” he added.

Ricoh hopes to have the billboard operational by the end of January.

Editing by Maggie Fox and Eric Beech