Solar panels installed at Urbana U.

Now a new “green” crop has taken its place.

A 5oo-kilowatt solar array was formally dedicated Friday morning. According to Melink Corp., the Cincinnati-based company that installed the panels, it’s the largest solar array on a college campus in southwest Ohio. On a cold, sunny day the panels are at their most efficient, capturing up to 17 percent of the sunlight to convert into usable electric power, said owner Steve Melink.

“We’re sending all the power back to the buildings (on campus) that are using the energy,” he said.

The panels are owned and operated by Melink under a 10-year contract. The array could reduce the university’s energy costs by up to $2 million over their 30-year lifespan, Melink said.

The 2,000 solar panels will provide about one-fifth of the total electric usage on campus. The system is set up to supply power first through the campus gymnasium, with excess energy being filtered out from there to other campus buildings, Melink said.

Coupled with a comprehensive campus-wide efficiency retrofit project already in the works, it’s hoped the university can boost that to a quarter of its total usage, university President Steve Jones said.

That project includes adding a roof-mounted solar thermal unit to heat water inside one of the residence halls. The new upgrades are expected to be complete by the end of spring semester, Jones said. Becoming a green university is an asset as it attracts more eco-conscience students, he said, as well as helps further what Jones calls his “personal goal” to make the campus more self-sustaining.

“When I sat in my conference room with people there this morning, I told them to enjoy the sunshine because what was lighting the lights was solar power,” he said. “We are striving to be more responsible citizens, more responsible stewards of the Earth and this is just one way to do that.”

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