Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Solar Flares a Prescription of Sunshine for Ailing Water Authorities in Southwestern Pa

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Solar Flares a Prescription of Sunshine for Ailing Water Authorities in Southwestern Pa

Article excerpt

Ed Johnstonbaugh figures there are about 100 water authorities in southwestern Pennsylvania suffering the same symptoms: a shrinking and aging customer population, declining levels of employment, and an electricity bill that sucks up most of their operating budget.

The cure or, at least, the treatment he has proposed is sunshine.

A renewable energy educator with Penn State Extension-Westmoreland, Mr. Johnstonbaugh is rolling out a program to install large solar systems at water and wastewater authorities in Armstrong, Greene, Fayette, Indiana, Washington and Westmoreland counties. The Renewable Energy for Municipal Authorities Project, or REMAP, is beginning to survey these entities to gauge interest with the goal of selecting the first five projects by early next year.

Mr. Johnstonbaugh envisions projects up to 500 kilowatts in capacity - most residential rooftop systems are below 10 kilowatts - which could draw enough energy from the sun to cover 100 percent of the water authorities' demand. The solar panels would be connected to the grid and their production netted against the facilities' demand in a practice called net metering.

"They're ideal candidates because of their load types," he said. Water authorities require constant pumping to move their product. The electricity that feeds those pumps is usually the single largest operating expense for these facilities by a long shot, Mr. Johnstonbaugh said.

The program was inspired by Broad Top Township, a rural speck in Bedford County that, in 2011, installed a solar system that generates about 50 percent of the electricity used to pump water at its treatment plants.

Broad Top is exactly the type of township that Mr. Johnstonbaugh is targeting.

There are about 1,600 residents, "mostly elderly, retired people," said David Thomas, township secretary.

"There's very little business," he said. …

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