Alachua County is going green, one roof at a time.
In 2013, Alachua County signed a solar panel initiative to cut the energy used in all county buildings. Since then, the county has been assessing the rooftops of government buildings to review which would be good candidates for solar installation.
A solar feasibility study, which is part of an Alachua County solar initiative, found that 24 buildings were determined to be viable candidates for solar. One building that qualified to have its roof replaced with solar panels is the Alachua County Fire Rescue Station 25 in Hawthorne. Age, condition and orientation of the buildings were taken into consideration.
Barry Jacobson, president of Solar Impact, the Gainesville renewable energy company installing the solar panels, said this is a positive change for the fire station because it is going to lower its electric bills, leaving more money for operating costs.
The installations will begin in the next two or three weeks, said Charlie Jackson
, Alachua County facilities management director. The county anticipates a reduction in electricity consumption since the station is open 24/7.
During the county commission meeting on March 24, the board confirmed permission for the county to apply for the $40,640-rebate from Florida Power and Light to help pay for the installation project.
The rebates are open to anyone in the public and private sector, but they are not open often, said Sean McLendon, assistant to the Alachua County manager.
“When they do, you have to scramble really fast to get your application in because it’s very competitive,” he said. “Getting the rebate is all based on performance.”
To receive this rebate, the county has to complete the installation in a time frame of less than 80 days, Jackson said. He said he expects it will take between two and three weeks to get the job done.
The system for Alachua County Fire Rescue Station 25 costs
around $57,000, and the rebate the county applied for is around $40,640, McLendon said. For about $17,000 of out-of-pocket money, the solar panels will be installed.
The $17,000 is being paid with funds given from Gainesville Regional Utilities, Jackson said.
The rebate, which is covering more than 70 percent of the cost of the system, is the last program FPL is scheduled to give for solar energy systems, Jacobson said.
“They were very fortunate to get that rebate,” he said. “That’s huge.”
Rachel Reiss, president of University of Florida’s Greeks Going Green club, said she thinks it’s a worthy venture for the county to spend money implementing solar panels.
“Any cost that is paid now is an investment in the future, not only in terms of environmental quality but moneys, too,” Reiss said. “The energy produced in the system will be plentiful enough as to offset costs by traditional electric systems now.”
This fire station is a beneficial site to work on because of the open roof, Jacobson said.
“We are always happy to see solar working on government property,” he said. “The firefighters seemed excited. It’s always fun to work with people who are excited.”
The county hopes this installation will continue to improve its solar energy standards, McLendon said.
Reiss said the solar panel initiative represents a major shift in thinking for both county residents and policy makers.
“There has always been a push to adopt renewables, but finances have held back,” she said. “There are already so many sustainable initiatives. The adoption of solar panels furthers Alachua County’s commitment to promoting an eco-friendly lifestyle. It’s another promising step down a good path.”