Stratford Ecological Center’s plans to become energy self-sufficient through solar power became a reality this week as 156 solar panels were installed on two buildings.
R. David Hoy, development director for the center, said the installation crew “has been through some brutal weather, and it hasn’t slowed them down yet. They had a snow blower up there to get all the snow and ice off of the buildings.”
According to Hoy, Stratford’s fundraising campaign to raise $115,000 has reached $75,000-mark in donations to help fund the solar panel array.
“After our solar panel installation, we will be producing 70,000 kilowatt-hours annually of our own electricity, which represents 90 percent of our total electrical needs — via the AEP net metering program,” Hoy said.
Hoy said the center is working with Third Sun Solar from Athens, Ohio, on the installation.
“The Stratford Ecological Center has spent years trying to give hands-on educational opportunities to children and families. Helping people who foster and grow a love of our planet is something we treasure,” said Geoff Greenfield, Third Sun Solar president. “For so many people to come together and contribute to a solar solution is a testament to the sustainability of solar.”
According to Jeff Dickinson, the center’s executive director, there were many plans and designs in the approach of installing solar power.
“We started off with thinking about putting solar on the education center, but the founders had issues with it being to close to the woods,” he said. “Then we thought about a ground-mounted system but that was very expensive and it actually chews up a lot of ground, which we don’t like doing. So I came up with the idea to put it on the two barns.”
Dickinson said solar has taken off, but legislators and lobbyist won’t get out of the way to let people use more of what they produce.
“This is the most redundant and resilient energy system,” he said. “We’re the investors. We put the system in place, and we’re putting energy on the grid. Just let everyone pull in what they are producing. That’s how strong the lobby is.”
Dickinson said the current state and federal laws will only allow the center to produce up to 90 percent of their electric power needs.
“They don’t want us to be a power producer,” Hoy said. “They want to control it.”
According to one Third Sun Solar technician, the solar array requires no maintenance and even when covered in snow, the panels will produce power.
According to Mark Campbell, solar technician, there are no modifications made to the roof of the buildings. He said braces are basically screwed into place, and then the panels are attached to the braces.
“It’s nothing too difficult,” he said. “The panels only weigh about 50 pounds.”
Campbell said before he began working with Third Sun, “I was cutting trees. Now I’m saving them by installing solar panels.”
According to Dickinson, the panels, at max, will produce 350 watts of electricity.
“Of course, they don’t produce that all the time, but that’s their max,” he said.
Stratford Ecological Center is a 501(c) (3) non-profit educational organic farm and nature preserve on 236 acres in Delaware County.
The center’s mission is to educate children and adults in understanding relationships between living things and the environment to foster an appreciation of the land and the life that depends on it.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.