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Mount Vernon, Knox County, Ohio

By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter

MOUNT VERNON — Local officials are taking advantage of a solar savings initiative to learn whether solar energy is a viable option for reducing electric bills in five county buildings. The County Commissioners Association of Ohio Service Corporation is sponsoring the initiative; Palmer Energy Co. of Toledo is conducting the feasibility evaluations.

“The driving force in your case is the jail. It obviously has a high amount of usage and falls within the parameters of usage [for solar],” Bill Bradish of Palmer Energy Co. told Knox County Commissioners Teresa Bemiller and Roger Reed. He added that it makes sense to include four other buildings in the process: Opportunity Knox Employment Center, Board of DD, water/wastewater and the health department. According to the initial feasibility study, “greatly reducing or eliminating generation capacity charges at a facility creates the most likely solar savings opportunity.” Because of the proximity of the five buildings, one solar array could handle all five entities. An array this size would take about 5.5 acres.

A second option is to go with solar for the jail only; this would take less acreage. The commissioners rejected Bradish’s initial suggestion of placing the array on acreage at the corner of Upper Gilchrist Road and U.S. 36, saying it was a prime location for future use. Reed suggested locating the array behind the Board of DD building or northeast of the jail. The commissioners will identify several sites for Bradish to consider and provide him with the acreage available in those locations. Because solar use in the buildings is still in the exploratory stage, the commissioners do not yet have specific numbers as to costs and savings. “All we are doing here is getting to a point where we can do an assessment to see if it makes sense to do a [Request for Proposal],” said Bradish. “But the savings are there based on our assumptions.” Palmer Energy Co. generated some preliminary numbers for the five buildings:

*Opportunity Knox Employment Center: solar could produce half of the facility’s annual use and save about 11 percent over the lifespan of the array

*Board of DD: solar could produce half of the facility’s annual use and save about 12 percent over the lifespan of the array

*County jail: solar could produce half of the facility’s annual use and save about 11 percent over the lifespan of the array

*Water/wastewater: solar could produce two-thirds of the facility’s annual use and save about 16 percent over the lifespan of the array

*Health department: solar could produce half of the facility’s annual use and save about 10 percent over the lifespan of the array

*Combined: estimated collective savings of about 11 percent Reed told KnoxPages.com that the average electric bill for the jail is about $10,000 a month and that the commissioners have been looking at solar for the past six or seven years.

Bemiller said that with CCAOSC’s involvement, exploring solar options is more attractive since CCAOSC provides the service free of charge. “We have a definite interest with the jail, and if we can bring in the others, we’re definitely interested,” Bemiller told KnoxPages.com.

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