The winter months, when the sun is lower in the sky or often obscured by clouds, is not a time when people typically herald the benefits if solar electricity. At the Ulysses Philomathic Library in Trumansburg, however, they are doing just that. Installation of 2,500 square feet of solar panels on the library’s south facing roof was completed this month.
New York State Electric and Gas gave the nod to turn on the system on Feb. 12, and on the 19th library staff completed a final walk-through of the project with Taitem Engineering and assumed responsibility for the panels, wiring and inverters, which are should be in operation for decades. The solar panels are the most visible step the library is taking to cut costs and reduce its carbon footprint.
“We’re always looking at ways to be greener,” Library Director Annette Birdsall says. “The basic impetus (for the project) was an awareness of the fact that the library’s electricity costs are climbing, and a desire to be a little greener for the planet.” The panels will reduce electricity costs by producing as much power as the library uses—about 48,000 kilowatt hours—and likely more.
Winter months will see less production due to cloud cover, possible snow on the panels and lower angles of the sun. The library’s needs that can’t be produced by the panels in these months will be supplemented by the grid. In sunnier months electricity produced by the panels will go first to the library, with surplus power entering the grid and credited to the library. The result is in an estimated electric bill of 0 dollars over the course of a year.
This should save the library about $5,400 per year, Birdsall says. The library is also undertaking other steps to be greener, such as not heating the building when it is closed, using recycled products and plans to replace an old refrigerator and install LED lighting. Birdsall notes that the building is only 14 years old and is well insulated.
To cover the costs of solar installation Birdsall applied for funding from the New York State Library Construction Grant Program and received $55,000, which required funds to be matched by the library. To date the library has raised $43,500 from within the community.
Installation was initially planned to be completed in April, but due to the unusually mild winter putting the panels on the roof took only about two weeks, beginning Jan. 8, followed by two more weeks of interior wiring. The library increased its insurance coverage to reflect the value of the panels, library staff will visually inspect the panels periodically and Taitem Engineering will monitor production to identify if any problems arise. The system is expected to operate “maintenance-free for decades,” says Gordon Woodcock, manager of renewable energy at Taitem.
“We were really enthusiastic to support that organization,” says Woodcock of the Trumansburg library. Taitem does installations for private residences and small commercial projects, such as the Longhouse Cooperative in Ithaca and a woodworking shop in Brooktondale, as well as for other public entities like the library. “There’s a lot of interest by municipalities right now,” he adds, noting that Taitem recently installed solar power for the Town of Preble offices, in Cortland County. Taitem’s primary focus is photo-voltaic solar power, and the meaning of their name—Technology As If The Earth Mattered—seems well suited to the work.
The library is needs to raise $11,500 to meet the $55,000 goal. There will be a celebration to recognize the installation on March 20, the solar equinox, and Birdsall hopes to see fundraising completed then. “We’re really grateful to the community for the support of our projects,” she says.
Birdsall would like to see the solar power at the library serve another function besides reducing costs and their environmental footprint. She’d like the installation to be educational, and to inspire other people to go solar, too. Toward that end the library has an informative display within the building, and on its website, trumansburglibrary.org, hosts a link to www.solarweb.com, where the public can view the library’s current solar power generation and total yield for the day, among other information.