jump to navigation

Merrillville PV Solar Installation Creates Renewable Energy Debate March 9, 2009

Posted by Laura Arnold in Uncategorized.

Bill Keith, President of SunRise Solar provided the following photos from the Merrillville PV installation.

This is a multi-part story on the photovoltaic or solar electric panel installation on the Merrillville Town Hall. First there is an article from the Post-Tribune that describes the background and history of the project. Next, there is the story that ran in the NWI Times. This is followed by a Letter to the Editor by Larry Wilson. I have also posted the comments posted to the NWI Times. Finally, there is a thoughtful and well-reasoned response to Larry Wilson’s letter written by Tracy Hall. Go to http://nwi.com/opinion/letters/ to see how to send your rebuttal to Larry Wilson’s editorial.

Town hall goes solar
View article on-line here. http://www.post-trib.com/news/lake/1431984,mvsolar.article

By Christin Nance Lazerus
Post-Tribune staff writer

MERRILLVILLE (February 15, 2009)– Workers from four unions looked like they were doing simple roofing and wiring work Saturday at Merrillville Town Hall.

But members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 697, Northwest Indiana Roofers Local 26, Sheet Metal Workers Local 20 and the Sheet Metal Contractors Association were actually setting the stage for 30 solar panels, which will be installed soon and will help provide power for the building.

It will give the town an energy savings of at least $600 per year. And it cost taxpayers next to nothing, thanks to a $23,250 grant and donated materials and labor.

The project was the brainchild of renewable energy activist and IBEW 697 member Tracy Hall. He was inspired by the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” to do his part to conserve energy.

In 2006, he traveled to Stevens Point, Wis., and he learned how to install solar panels.

Hall wanted to encourage the adoption of solar energy systems in the area, so he approached several municipalities about the solar panel project last summer.

After some initial skepticism, then-Merrillville Economic Development Director Howard Fink took him up on the offer. In November, Fink said he was excited that Merrillville would be the first municipal building in Northwest Indiana to commit to renewable energy.

“We see this as an incredibly progressive project, and we’re ecstatic to be at the front of this movement,” Fink, who is now the town manager, said in November.

The project also is serving as a laboratory of sorts for the 14 students that Hall is teaching in a class on solar panel installation at the IBEW.

“I’m hoping to do this again in the future,” Hall said. “I really like doing installation with a class. Touching the materials is so much better than just looking at them.”

Hall is studying green building certification, in the hopes of building a new environmentally friendly union hall.

Hall thinks that the solar panel project could draw interest from people looking to cut their energy expenses.

“I’m hoping that people will start calling their local union, and it helps kick start the industry in area,” Hall said.

“It’s just a small part of the town’s energy needs, but it will save about 6,500 kilowatt hours per year.”

If all goes well — and the sun is shining — Merrillville should start seeing energy savings by the end of the month.

Piet Levy contributed to this report. Contact Christin Nance Lazerus at 648-3086 or cnance@post-trib.com. Comment on this story at http://www.post-trib.com/

NWI Times EDITORIAL: Merrillville plugs into solar power

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Merrillville officials are planning more than just a panel discussion. They’re actually installing solar panels at the Town Hall to plug into the sun’s power. That’s a smart move.

Weather permitting, union roofers will get the building’s roof ready this weekend for the installation of 30 solar panels on Saturday and Feb. 21.

The solar panels will save the town $650 per year, which is nothing to sneeze at even though solar panels remain expensive.

A $23,250 grant from the Indiana Office of Energy & Defense Development, along with with the donation of services by union roofers and electricians, means no taxpayer money will be used for the project.

“The unions have been a great help,” Town Councilman and Environmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Goralczyk said.

The unions benefit from the project because many union workers will be trained in installing the solar panels.

Solar power figures prominently in President Obama’s plan for the nation’s future. The more the nation can be weaned from dependence on foreign oil, the better for the nation’s national security.

Merrillville officials hope local businesses and residents will follow the town’s example and install solar panels.

The Town Hall, as retrofitted, also will show the town’s commitment to sustainable energy, which should help as the town seeks to recruit innovative companies to locate there.

Those panels will make a powerful statement about the town. Your opinion, please
Should solar panels be installed on all government buildings?

Share your thoughts at http://nwi.com/opinion

Copyright © 2009 nwi.com

Larry Wilson Letter to the Editor

I read the article about Merrillville install solar panels on the town hall building to save $650 a year on energy costs. They can probably save that amount by caulking around doors and windows, installing door sweeps and sealing off electrical outlets to stop drafts.

How many of these politicians who had input to use this money this way would do that at their own homes? Do the math, people. A $23,250 grant divided by a $650 savings a year would take 38 years to break even. Merrillville Town Hall probably won’t be there in 38 years.

At the end of 38 years, if you put $23,250 in the bank at 5 percent interest rate you would have $148,462. And if it was compounded daily or even monthly, it would be thousands more at the end of 38 years.

If Merrillville can’t find a better way of spending this money, they should give it back so somebody else that can use it better can have it.

Larry Wilson, Munster

7 comment(s) thus far as follows:

Please note: The following are comments from readers. In no way do they represent the views of The Times or Lee Enterprises. We will not edit or alter your comments, but we do reserve the right to not post or to remove comments that violate our code of conduct. No comment may contain potentially libelous statements; obscene, explicit or racist language; personal attacks, insults or threats.

Teacher wrote on Mar 8, 2009 8:09 PM:
” I will be dead long before the earth, do the math! Avg life of a human 75 years, age of the earth 4.5 billion years. Wise up! What happens when all the suns energy is used up and the sun dies, then what? Back to oil I guess. Wise up! “

Professor wrote on Mar 8, 2009 3:58 PM:
” Here’s some math for you. Don’t build solar panels and save the planet! Do you think solar panels are built from water and air. Nope. Probably plastic, eh?

When you waste money, which is what Munster just did, you extract funds from a bad cause (solar panels that will fail and require to be re-installed before their payout) away from a good cause — like geothermal that has a lower breakeven.

But, I won’t expect people, especially politicians, to think too hard. Afterall, the theme is more important than the reality. Which is why Americans are headed towards hard times as the piper sings his lovely tune. At least you’ll be happy listening to his rhetoric as we head over the cliff. “

Solar waste wrote on Mar 8, 2009 2:27 PM:
” Like Larry said caulking and weatherizing would have been 1/10 of the monsy and been more efficient. How much solar energy do we get when it is dark, raining, or the panels are covered with 6″ of snow. Any alternate energy source has to be of a large scale and in the right location. “

To Teacher wrote on Mar 8, 2009 2:10 PM:
” Wow! A blanket indictment against the whole state of Indiana not being able to perform mathematics. What state are you from, Illinois perhaps? How far in debt is the state of Illinois? The last I heard was $8 billion dollars. Do you still want to talk math? “

Bill B wrote on Mar 8, 2009 8:53 AM:
” Renewable energy always has payoffs that go far beyond the immediate cost saving on untility bills. One factor is the reduction in pollution created by burning the coal, another is the health improvement for the people living near the power plant, another is the reduced energy used to transport the coal to the power plant, and the reduced amount of coal that needs to be dug out of the ground. One project won’t have a large impact, but imagine if 25% of the buildings in Merrillville (or Munster) did this. “

Stimulator wrote on Mar 8, 2009 5:42 AM:
” Right on Larry. Now calculate the same for the Billions dedicated in the “spendulus” bill. The waste is staggering! “

Teacher wrote on Mar 8, 2009 1:15 AM:
” Why not spend money on solar energy? You don’t seem to mind wasting billions on wasteful, counterproductive ethanol production. At least solar doesn’t harm anything like ethanol certainly does.

Here’s some math for you. Insulate your homes PLUS build solar power MINUS build ethanol plants EQUALS the planet survives a little while longer. But I doubt you can do simple math in Indiana – that would require having decent schools. “

Response to Larry Wilson from Tracy Hall

I applaud Mr. Wilson’s ability to do simple payback calculations. And yes, he is absolutely right; money spent on energy efficiency measures always has a faster payback and initially makes more sense than investing in renewable energy. In fact, one dollar spent on energy efficiency is worth three spent on renewable energy (RE). What Mr. Wilson fails to understand is that the grant proposal that was authored by me and one of Merrillville’s hardest working employees, Town Administrator Howard Fink was for a grant from Indiana’s Offices of Energy and Defense Development. The key words in that department name are “Energy” and “Development”. And to just set the record straight, Howard is not a politician, nor an elected official. He is an employee of the town, and as I previously stated, one of the hardest working civil servants I have had the pleasure of working with.

The “politicians” that Mr. Wilson refers to did not have any say so as to how this grant funding could be spent. It was expressly to be used for RE systems with an emphasis on education. With this grant money, not only did the Town of Merrillville receive an RE system, 12 area electricians were educated in siting, designing, and installing these systems. About the same number of apprentice roofers were trained on the implications of a rooftop installation of this nature (this won’t be the last one Mr. Wilson). The local chapter of International Association of Electrical Inspectors was invited to the installation and given materials specific to inspecting and permitting of RE systems so that when some forward thinking individual decides that this is something they want to do, the inspector can make sure that their installation is safe and National Electrical Code compliant. The town has published a tri-fold pamphlet available to the public to explain briefly how this photovoltaic system works. The town has also granted access to future generations of electricians to observe this system for a “hands on” approach to learning.

All of the labor for this project was donated by the Northwest Indiana Building Trades. All of the materials used for this project were donated by local area supply houses and contractors. Why would people waste so much of their own resources on such wasteful spending? Because they are forward thinking and they know the value of the “Green Job” revolution that is coming and what it can do to boost this stagnant economy that we have fallen into. The RE industry has the potential to be one of the greatest economic engines of this century and these individuals are way ahead of the curve.

This photovoltaic (PV) system that Mr. Wilson is berating will offset nearly 5 tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually. It produces no emissions and its virtually free fuel source comes from a nuclear reactor 93 million miles away from the Earth that we call the sun. It is essentially maintenance free and runs automatically. When you invest in a RE system, you are increasing your property value with something that will likely last longer than you. Commercial users can depreciate an RE system for even quicker payback. You are paying for your energy up front and living off of the interest. You are buying a power plant that will give you free energy for years. The simple payback calculation that Mr. Wilson refers to also neglects the fact that historically energy prices rise. As those prices rise, that payback period decreases. With an RE system you lock in your rate for decades. When you go to sell your property it will retain its high value for decades. Mono crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells experience a degradation of about ½% per year. That means that in 50 years they will still be producing about 75% of their rated output. Some of the earliest produced PV modules from the 1950’s are still producing a significant amount of power.

Presently in this country we are producing most of our electricity by burning fossil fuels; particularly coal. It is dirty, polluting, and hazardous to human health. Is it a coincidence that cancer and respiratory diseases like asthma have risen dramatically in the last several decades along with our thirst for more power? What is the cost of healthcare in this country and how much of it can be attributed to the fowl air we breathe, polluted with mercury, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, arsenic, heavy metals, etc… What is the payback when you consider the damage to the environment and the eventual cost of healthcare? What is the legacy we leave for our children and our grandchildren when they have to use oxygen masks to survive? The RE industry can solve this problem by providing us with clean power.

As far as the government subsidizing the RE industry, why do you think our power is so cheap? It is because the government subsidizes it. If the government subsidized renewables the way they do coal and oil in this country we would all have wind turbines and PV systems on our property generating clean power. If you are so intrigued with simple payback calculations Mr. Wilson, what is the payback of the vehicle you drive? Will it last for decades and provide you with maintenance free power for years; eventually paying for itself and then actually giving you a return on your investment? I realize that this is an apples to oranges comparison, but you need transportation and you need energy. I would venture to guess that your vehicle cost is similar to the cost of a PV system and is unlikely to ever payback; just like the coal generated electricity that we all buy.

When I got home after this installation Saturday, my wife and children looked upon me with so much pride for what I have done. They know that this is the future. They know that this is the right thing to do. And Mr. Wilson, so do I.

Tracy Hall



1. Solar Power Light - September 28, 2009

Thanks for this informative post….

2. Solar Panel - September 28, 2009

Thanks for this informative post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: