This past week, Alabama Governor Bob Riley’s office announced the award of $600,900 in economic stimulus grants to three east Alabama governmental entities to use solar to reduce their electricity costs and the size of their carbon footprints.
The largest allocation, of $250,000, to the city of Anniston, will see the installation of 156 solar panels to help provide electricity to the city’s Museum of Natural History. The panels will reportedly save about $4,500 in electricity costs per year, and will be accompanied by a video monitor in one of the exhibit halls to help visitors understand how a solar system works and how solar radiation can be used beneficially to reduce fossil fuel emissions. The city will reportedly chip in more than $51,000 to help fund the solar installation.
In Lee County, $162,000 will help buy a solar-powered hot water system for the T.K. Davis Justice Center Complex. Using 36 solar panels and storing up to 1,750 gallons of hot water for use in restrooms and food service facilities, the solar thermal hot water system will reportedly save the county more than $28,000 in electricity costs per year.
The T. K. Davis Justice Center already has a 16.56-kilowatt solar system, courtesy of Lee County, Colbert, Georgia-based One World Sustainable Energy (a turnkey solar integrator), Watkinsville, Georgia-based Drew Bowen Electric, and Auburn University’s Space Research Institute, which serves as the backbone of an expandable solar energy system which Lee County anticipates will, in future, deliver 150 kilowatts of solar energy.
A $188,900 grant to the city of Opelika will see 112 solar panels on the roof of City Hall which will reportedly save about $3,500 in electricity costs per year. The city and local entities are providing another $75,000 in funding to insure the installation.
According to Henry Brandhorst, a professor of engineering at Auburn University, the largest stumbling block to Alabama homeowners and businesses adopting solar technology is the dearth of individuals qualified to hook up said systems, since the cost of solar power is now about equal to commercial electricity.
Speaking to a group of engineers at a noon seminar Nov. 3, Brandhorst expressed his hope that the Opelika facility would spark enough interest so that solar adoption in Alabama would force local contractors into becoming certified in installing solar systems.
The grants are part of $9.6 million in funding sitting in the state’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program (EECBG), which is, in turn, allocated under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, and activated by $3.2 billion allotted via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009.
Based on the Community Development Block Grant program, EECBG helps cities, counties, states, territories and Native American tribes improve the energy efficiency of public buildings, reduce fossil fuel emissions though adoption of renewable energy technologies like solar, and create or retain jobs.
As Gov. Riley noted, the projects will help reduce utility bills, largely because “in the future, sunlight won’t be subject to rate increases.”