Thursday, February 9, 2012

Newberry Showing Off Its New Solar Power System On Monday

Newberry is going green, and the Easton-Newberry Sports Complex will soon get an environmentally friendly face-lift.

The city of Newberry is hosting an all-day "Green Celebration" Monday where people can learn about the solar photovoltaic system that was recently installed on the facility's roof. The system is expected to save the city about $16,500 in electricity costs each year, said Wendy Kinser, planner and grants coordinator for the city of Newberry.

The roof system is made up of 245-watt photovoltaic modules that face south, according to a city of Newberry news release.

The silicon wafers in its solar panels produce a charge when light hits them, which is then collected and converted into electricity for the building, said Rick Gilbert, vice president of Solar Source, which is the company that installed the system for the city.

The 10.29-kilowatt system will provide about 5 percent of the sports complex's electricity needs each year and will eliminate a few metric tons of carbon dioxide in the process.

The system is one of five projects the city is funding through a $128,000 grant it received in 2011 from the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, said Blaine Suggs, utilities director for the city of Newberry. It is the first energy-related grant the city has received.

Monday's celebration is part of the package deal that the city accepted from Solar Source, which was selected to install the solar system during the project bidding process at a price of $51,347, Kinser said.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony to commission the new solar system will be held at noon in front of the sports complex, and two three-hour public workshops will be offered that day where Solar Source employees will teach people about the new system and about solar power in general.

The sessions will be held at 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., Kinser said. People interested in attending the workshops are encouraged to sign up ahead of time, although it is not required.

There are also monitors at the sports complex and at Newberry City Hall that show the system's real-time production of solar energy and cost savings.

Solar Source will also have a solar-powered trailer at the event that will allow people to observe a working solar power system closely at ground level, Gilbert said.

Solar power systems like the one at the sports complex produce electricity every day, and that's money going back into people's pockets, he said. It's self-generating electricity.

"Newberry is very progressive for doing this," Gilbert said. "We commend them for … having the foresight to do a system like this, which will motivate other people to do the same thing."

Although the electricity production levels of the sports complex's solar system will lessen over time as it ages, it is guaranteed to produce electricity at a certain rate for 25 years, he said.

Solar power systems can be put on the roofs of large buildings like the sports complex, and they can also be put on the roofs of private houses. Depending on the size of the system in watts, a system for a person's home can cost from $10,000 to $25,000.

"What's the payback on your countertops? What's the payback on your cabinets? What's the payback on your tile floor? Nothing," he said. "There's payback on your solar system."

While the city initially expected the project to cost about $71,000, Solar Source's bid was much lower, Kinser said. The cost of a 10-kilowatt solar system had decreased between when the city applied for the grant in February 2010 and when it started the bidding process, accounting for the difference between the project's expected and actual cost.

The money that was left over from the initial cost estimates was shifted to another project, a street lighting retrofit program that is also funded by the energy grant.

"It wasn't enough to do a whole other solar project, but at least it could help augment another project that was part of that grant," Kinser said.

The street lighting program will exchange 20 of Newberry's streetlights, which are currently high-pressure sodium or metal halide lights, for LED lights, Suggs said. It is a pilot program that will help the city determine how much energy can be saved by switching to LED lights.

Another project that is funded by the energy grant is an outreach program, which aims to educate people about energy conservation similar to Monday's "Green Celebration."


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