Solar Energy System Powers Western Reserve Schools

BERLIN CENTER, Ohio – In the solar energy business, a solar energy spill is characterized as a nice day.

On Thursday, with clear skies and temperatures in the 90s, Erin Quinlan described it as “a powerful day.”

Quinlan and her husband, Dan, own Valley Energy Solar, Salem, which recently completed installation of 396 solar panels on the roof of the Western Reserve Local Schools complex here.

“We get maximum production on a day like today,” Dan Quinlan said.

The Quinlans joined school district and local officials at a press event Thursday to discuss the solar panel system.

“It’s great to see a sunny day and watch that meter go round and round,” remarked Jeff Zatchok, district superintendent.

The panels will provide up to 12% of the energy the district uses on an annual basis, Erin Quinlan said. Under an agreement with Valley Energy Solar, the Western Reserve district will purchase the electricity generated by the system from the company, at about 20% less than it is paying now.

After 15 years, the school district will own the system. The lifespan of a solar energy system is 30 years or more. The district should save $250,000 over that 30-year span based on current rates, she estimated.

In addition to providing savings for the district, the system will enhance educational opportunities for students, Zatchok said. “We have a very active industrial technology program,” he said, and having the solar panel system might spur students to investigate that field.

The panels will collect sunlight to be converted into direct current, which will be funneled into converters and changed into usable alternating current, Dan Quinlan said.

He acknowledged skepticism surrounding the practicality of solar power in the region because of the weather.

“We think we live in this dark, dingy area of the United States that we get no sun, but as we can see it’s sunny today,” Quinlan said. Based on data collected over 50 years that shows exactly how much “solar sun” an area receives per day on average, systems are designed to produce a specified amount of energy.

“Maybe a system here in northeastern Ohio has to be about 30% larger than a system in southern California to get the same amount of power out of it, so we just account for that in our system design,” Quinlan added. Solar panels also will produce even when there’s cloud cover so “it doesn’t have to be a perfectly blue sky” to generate power.

Germany produces the largest amount of solar energy per capita than anywhere in the world but the average amount of solar sun is less than herein northeastern Ohio, he noted.

Valley Energy Solar received a Rural Energy for America Program grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture of nearly $100,000 toward offsetting the costs of installing the $350,000 system.

Since 2009, the program has funded $7.5 million in projects in Ohio, Tony Logan, USDA state director for rural development, said.

In addition to providing savings for the district, the system will help introduce district students to job opportunities in solar power, Logan said.

“Solar means jobs. It means jobs in assembly of photovoltaic cells. It means jobs in fabricating the rack systems that are used to mount these panels,” he remarked.

Speakers at Thursday’s event also included Berlin Township Trustee Denny Furman and Bianca Koup, field representative for U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio.

Pictured: Dan Quinlan shows the solar panels that will provide electricity to the school district.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.