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BLOOMINGTON — Three hundred and eighty-three opportunities to reduce fossil fuel energy consumption and save money are being placed on the roof of YWCA McLean County.

Installation of 383 solar photovoltaic panels began in July and will be complete next week, said Perry Mayer, director of building operations at the YWCA, 1201 N. Hershey Road.

"We'll start receiving electricity (through the panels) immediately when the work is done," Mayer said.

"Our minimum lifetime savings for the system is $75,000," Mayer said. Because YWCA's contract with Shine Development Partners, a renewable energy company, is 25 years, that means an annual savings of $3,000 a year.

"This is the right thing to do environmentally and we can save money," said YWCA Vice President of Operations Liz German. 

"They are setting an example for our community," said Michael Brown, executive director of the Normal-based Ecology Action Center, a not-for-profit agency working to preserve a healthy environment.

"It's impressive that a nonprofit organization is taking the lead," Brown said. "This is a win-win. They are reducing their carbon footprint and saving money and they have a sustainable energy source for years to come."

During a brief rooftop tour Thursday, Mayer pointed out that the panels cover two-thirds of the YWCA roof. Panels are not being placed on the remaining third because that part of the roof will need to be replaced within 25 years.

Installation is being performed by StraightUp Solar, a solar energy contractor. Wilcox Electric, an electrical contractor, is making the connection from the Ameren power grid to the solar system components, Mayer said.

The genesis for the project was an energy assessment of the YWCA by Ecology Action Center about a year ago, concluding with a recommendation of solar panels. Mayer contacted solar energy companies and concluded that, even with low-interest financing, the YWCA couldn't afford to purchase solar panels.

Several months later, a representative of StraightUp Solar contacted Mayer and proposed a power purchase agreement in which that company would install the panels and Shine would buy the panels, pay for the labor and sell the energy that the solar panels create to the YWCA at a reduced rate.

The rate would be less than the YWCA currently pays Ameren for electrical distribution and Constellation for energy, Mayer said.

"If the sun is shining, the panels will produce electricity," Mayer said. At night and during cloudy days, most of the YWCA's electricity will come from Ameren and Constellation.

When the panels produce more electricity than the YWCA needs, the extra energy will flow into the energy grid, resulting in lower Ameren and Constellation bills.

The solar panel project follows the YWCA's switch earlier this summer from fluorescent to LED lights, resulting in a projected annual savings of $15,831.76, Mayer said.

"We have to turn the lights on anyway," German said. "We might as well pay less for it so we can put that money into programs and staff."

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech


Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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