Solar panels on parking garage will offer Oak Park long-term savings

Avenue garage addition generates benefits

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

Atop the five-story Avenue garage at the corner of North Boulevard and Oak Park Avenue sits a fixture that sets a new standard for Oak Park.

More notably, it sets a standard for Illinois.

The solar electric system that's been working for just over a month is the largest garage-mounted system in the state, a measure that could pave the way for the start of many green initiatives in Oak Park.

The overall cost of the project was around $765,600, according to K.C. Poulos, the village's sustainability manager, who said 75 percent was covered by grant funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

"It's another pride of place that Oak Parkers will know about," she said. "It's really pretty exciting."

Poulos said the best benefit to the village is the 25 percent savings that comes from the reduced energy usage. The village will pay off the system in 10-12 years, but panels will spark long-term savings.

For those who missed the instillation earlier this year, a one-minute, 10-second video, posted on shows a fast motion video of the process. A link to the real-time data, revealing how much energy is being produced, is also available on the site.

Besides saving energy, allowing the public to monitor the usage engages the community, an opportunity Poulos said she hopes encourages people to take more green initiatives in their lives.

"We thought this had to have a triple bottom line effort," she said, referring to the financial, social and environmental perks. "The social benefits had to be translated in a way that could really be understood."

Poulos said the highest possible reading is 99 kilowatts per hour; the village has hit somewhere around 77. The sunnier, warmer days could produce those higher numbers.

Currently, the energy registered equals the same amount of energy as 116, 60-watt light bulbs for eight hours a day over a one-year period; offsets the carbon dioxide levels equivalent to planting 368 trees; saves 14 tons of carbon dioxide; and is equal to the energy of 1,658 gallons of gas saved.

She said the panels can't act as a power source for the entire garage because it would take an unrealistically large structure to produce that amount of energy. The village, however, is looking into more energy-efficient lighting in the garage.

But when those extra sunny days hit and more power is generated than the garage needs, the energy is fed back into the grid for credit from ComEd.

Based on trends, the going green phase isn't going to be a fad in Oak Park; instead, the village has plans to find additional ways to find savings through energy-efficient methods. For example, the garage near OPRF has been deemed an appropriate site for a solar panel roof as a possible future project.

Each year of operation, the solar array will produce 106-megawatt hours and help protect the local environment by preventing the release of 76 tons of CO2, while eliminating an estimated 440 pounds of nitric oxide and 1,100 pounds of acid-rain forming sulfates, according to the village's website.


Email: Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

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Mellanie from Oak Park  

Posted: June 8th, 2012 8:29 PM

I get so tired of the village doing projects like this. if it didn't cost the taxpayers anything, then fine. but $191,000 is A LOT of money! By the way, the lights in my alley are aglow all day AND night. wonder how much that cost. Can't seem to get any ones attention at village hall to correct it.


Posted: June 7th, 2012 11:52 PM

Isn't this a repeat of an earlier article?

Sergio Firpo  

Posted: June 6th, 2012 2:32 PM

I think we missed an opportunity to engage OPRF science students and ad an education dimension to this project. Students could have researched different technologies in solar panel construction, the benefits of single and dual tracking mechanisms versus stationary mounting supports, etc. Measuring and recording all the data could provide not only hands-on experience but useful information for residents and industry interested in using renewable energy sources.

Irony Police from Oak Park  

Posted: June 6th, 2012 2:23 PM

Nat Gas indeed burns much cleaner than gasoline but it's still a fossil fuel and NG cars emit almost as much CO2 as gasoline cars. You still need to burn roughly the same amount of carbon to make your internal combustion car go, no matter what the source. In terms of carbon monoxide and NOx, its a big improvement especially for urban areas, but in terms of green house gases its only a minor improvement.


Posted: June 6th, 2012 1:49 PM

Nat Gas will change all of that. VOP has changed over a bunch of its village fleet to Nat Gas.

Irony Police from Oak Park  

Posted: June 6th, 2012 12:20 PM

Does anyone else see the irony in the village crowing about about energy savings in a structural that it built specifically to encourage people to drive more in Oak Park? The 1,658 gallons of gas claimed to be saved to date is probably offset each and everyday by the cars the garage was built to house.

SOP Box Sally from Oak Park  

Posted: June 6th, 2012 12:04 PM

"The overall cost of the project was around $765,600..." "75 percent was covered by grant funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity"... Let's see... that leaves $191,400 out of the pockets of Oak Park taxpayers. The project was to be done by January, 2012 and the top deck of the parking facility was opened on or around the 1 May. What are the final costs? Who is responsible for any overruns and additional costs?


Posted: June 6th, 2012 6:29 AM

According to PVinsights, , solar panel prices dropped sharply in the past few years. Solar energy turned an affordable energy now.


Posted: June 6th, 2012 1:14 AM

Would be far better to have natural lighting -- like in the olden days -- rather than block out the sun and then use this technology to power artifical lighting. These panels will probably burn out long before they produce enough power to pay for themselves. Solar panels are good for low voltage, low current applications but cannot efficiently power devices designed to run on AC.

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