Use of solar power grows in Dayton

The University of Dayton has invested about $3 million on solar projects, including this solar array on the front lawn of Daniel J. Curran Place at 1700 S. Patterson Blvd. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

A growing number of Dayton home owners and businesses are investing in solar power despite less than half the year involving sunny days in Ohio,

The University of Dayton recently has invested about $3 million into solar technology, and others who have or will install panels or arrays include a local pizza shop, a well-known community organization and a variety of businesses and residents.

City building permit data indicate there have been about $2.5 million in solar power projects in Dayton in the last two years.

Dayton has been a little slower to use solar power, but it's really because of a lack of good information about the technology, said Bob Sisco, owner of Ohio Power Solutions, which has customers in the city.

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Interest in solar is spreading locally, and about 80% of people who look into the technology end up purchasing the equipment, Sisco said.

“Our business has been increasing by 30% to 40% every year for the past 10 years,” he said. “Folks just seem to be getting more interested in seeing what it really costs and they are pleasantly surprised.”

The city of Dayton also has created a new sustainability office that wants to reduce electricity consumption and increase the adoption and use of alternative energy sources.

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In 2019, companies and property owners obtained about 22 residential and commercial building and electrical permits from the city of Dayton to install solar panels and related equipment, according to a Dayton Daily News review of hundreds of permits.

The combined value of the projects was about $361,000. The prior year, organizations and property owners received 26 permits for solar power projects estimated to be worth nearly $2.1 million, the data show.

The University of Dayton in 2018 installed 4,026 solar panels that will provide about 2% of the campus' power, which is expected to offset carbon emissions by about 1% each year.

Solar arrays installed on the lawn of the Daniel J. Curran Place at 1700 S. Patterson Blvd. and Fitz Hall are expected to provide about 10% of the power used in the pair of buildings. They also provide power to electric-car charging stations at the properties.

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The university expects that the solar arrays will save about $300,000 in utility costs over their 30-year lifetime and prevent the release of 39,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air.

Last year, UD also installed 180 panels on the rooftop of 1401 S. Main St., which is the new home of the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community, the Dayton Foundation and the Dayton Development Coalition.

“Through our solar program, we have been able to accelerate additional investments in energy-saving improvements to campus operations and hold down costs for students plus foster sustainability-related research and hands-on learning opportunities for students,” said Andrew Horner, UD’s executive vice president of business and administrative services.

Businesses and community groups that invested in solar last year included Dayton's Original Pizza Factory on Wayne Avenue and East End Community Services on Xenia Avenue, according to city permits.

East End already has some solar panels, which were installed about four years ago in partnership with the CleanEnergy4All, which raised the money for the project.

The rooftop system, which cost about $80,000, is expected to save East End more than $200,000 in electric costs in the first 20 years of operation.

A new solar array is being installed at East End, and work on the project began on on Monday, said Jan Lepore-Jentleson, the organization's executive director.

UD students helped raise more than $42,000 for the East End project, after helping crowdfund a $32,000 solar array in 2018 for Mission of Mary Cooperative. The students work with RE-volv, which crowdsources funding for solar panels.

“It allows us to have more money for programming,” Lepore-Jentleson said. “It’s really cool.”

Converters and batteries are being installed at East End Community Services to maintain power in part of its facility when the electricity goes out, providing residents in the low-income neighborhood a place to go get warm, charge their phones and receive meals and other assistance and services, said Bob Pohl, CEO of CleanEnergy4All.

CleanEnergy4All is helping the Twin Towers neighborhood with a comprehensive sustainable energy strategy that includes projects in solar, energy-efficient upgrades, peer-to-peer education, training for families on how to reduce utility costs and more, Pohl said.

CleanEnergy4All’s work in Twin Towers is a model that will be expanded and replicated in other parts of Dayton, Pohl said.

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Dayton has about 176 sunny days each year, according to some estimates. Other groups say that Dayton ranks pretty low among the mid- to large-sized U.S. cities for the amount of sunshine it receives.

But officials say Dayton has plenty of sunshine to make investments in solar worthwhile.

Solar panels produce power every day, and Germany has the largest installed capacity in the world, even though the country’s weather is worse than Dayton’s, said Sisco, with Ohio Power Solutions.

Prices for solar technology continue to fall as utility rates keep on rising, and many people are fed up with lack of action to address climate change, Sisco said.

Most customers pay cash for solar panels, but some take out loans, and some have zero-down options, Sisco said.

The average residential install price is $15,540, after a 26% tax credit, and commercial systems can be two to 10 times larger, he said.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley installed solar panels on her home last year. She said her utility bill some months has been in the single digits.

She said she believes the panels will pay for themselves after about seven years.

She said Congress should extend the federal tax credit for solar installations she benefited from.

The tax credit was 30% in 2019, decreased to 26% in 2020 and is set to fall to 22% in 2021 and 10% in 2022, unless Congress takes actions.

“Ten years ago, you couldn’t have solar panels on your house in Ohio, and now you can,” she said. “The science and technology has really moved, and it’s really good for the world and long-term viability of our environment.”

The city of Dayton has created a new sustainability office, which it says seeks to “address resource needs of the current generation without compromising future generations while ensuring quality of life for everyone in the city.”

The city will look to obtain solar panels for use at the Dayton International Airport and its water plants, said Mark Charles, Dayton’s sustainability manager.

“Second, we could encourage residential and commercial applications via the facilitation of a local (Dayton) coop or bulk purchases of solar systems,” he said.

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