By Anna Lothson
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 oak-park.us/solar 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.
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