On one of the dreariest, most overcast days one could imagine, there was at least one ray of sunshine celebrated at the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks.
With the Beatles song “Here Comes The Sun” playing in the background, several dozen sunglasses-wearing visitors helped dedicate a large new solar panel array Friday that will generate nearly all the power the Watershed building will need.
“Our goal is to produce more energy than we consume, and this array will get us close to that,” said WCO director Mike Kromrey. “We plan to put in a Phase 2 about half this size next year that for sure will do that.”
The $80,000 solar array — made of multiple linked panels — was purchased from Sunbelt Solar, which also contributed about $10,000 of in-kind services to install the unit.
Zach Hancock, Sunbelt Solar project manager, said the system is made of 60 linked panels that will generate 32,095 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. It could power 3.6 average-sized homes.
When the array goes online next week, Kromrey said electricity pulled from the sun will be fed back into the power grid, lowering the Watershed Center’s electric bills. With the second unit online, Kromrey said he thinks the Watershed Center will start getting payments from City Utilities for the extra power the array generates.
“This will be a great educational learning tool for groups that come here, and it will help us reduce our carbon footprint,” Kromrey said.
Burning coal or natural gas to generate electricity creates carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.
The solar energy offsets carbon dioxide emissions equal to the burning of 2,688 gallons of gasoline, 26,133 pounds of coal or 55.3 barrels of oil, said Hancock with Sunbelt Solar.
The vast majority of the world’s scientists believe massive amounts of CO2 that have been pumped into the atmosphere through human industrial activities are causing the world’s climate to warm at an unnaturally accelerated pace.
“We don’t talk about climate change much here in the Ozarks, but this solar array will help be a conversation starter,” Kromrey said.
He notes that WCO staff will be able to use their smartphones to monitor how much power the array is generating, how much money it’s saving and how much CO2 the array has prevented from entering the atmosphere.