Columbus working to make solar energy more a priority

June 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Panel by panel, solar energy is finding its way onto rooftops and into communities.

The United States has 200 times more photo-voltaic capacity today than it had in 2002. And
solar-panel costs are dropping, according to a recent report by Environment America, an
environmental-advocacy organization.

The report also indicates that Columbus is lagging other cities. For example, Honolulu; San
Jose, Calif.; and Wilmington, Del., each produce 100 watts of solar power per person. Columbus
produces 2 watts per person, ranking it 49th out of 57 cities included in the report.

But that doesn’t mean Columbus isn’t working to make solar more of a priority.

The city’s fleet-management building on Groves Road has 2,650 solar panels, the largest rooftop
array of its kind in Ohio. Since being installed nearly a year ago, the array has provided 60
percent of the facility’s power, said Erin Miller, environmental steward for the city of

“It’s important for cities to lead by example, by demonstrating that it can be done, debunking
some of the myths and showing people it actually works,” Miller said. “We can’t tell people to do
things if we can’t do them ourselves.”

Even with cloud cover, panels still produce as much as 50 percent of their capacity.

Columbus leases its fleet-management roof to General Energy Solutions and Tipping Point Energy,
which own and installed the panels. In return, the city buys electrical power from them. The
partnership has resulted in a net savings of 18 percent, Miller said.

“We’re just buying the power like we would anyway. But it’s from a renewable ‘green’ source,”
she said. “And we’re buying it at a discount from what traditional gray (coal-generated) power
would cost.”

Many cities turned to solar as energy costs began to rise, said Rob Sargent, the report’s author
and energy-program director for Boston-based Environment America.

“You’re obviously not going to put up huge, honkin’ wind turbines in the city, but you have a
lot of rooftops,” Sargent said.

And unlike fossil fuels, solar doesn’t fluctuate much as a commodity.

“It’s predictable and consistent,” said Ragan Davis of Environment Ohio, an advocacy group. “
Cities can save money, reduce carbon pollution and reduce the risk of future rate hikes.”

The report, released this month, relied on voluntary submissions of solar projects and likely
understates participation, said Bill Spratley, the director of Green Energy Ohio, a nonprofit
advocacy group.

“A lot of these projects are private,” he said. “The government doesn’t have a way to count all
of it. … And as soon as you do, it’s out of date because it’s going up so fast.”

Spratley installed an array on the roof of his Worthington Hills house in December. The
4-kilowatt array cost $15,700, but he was given a 30 percent federal tax credit this year. And then
there are the reductions in his electricity bills.

Columbus, with newer buildings and sprawling boundaries, will continue to see solar expansion,
he said. “It’s just a matter of geography and time.”


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