As a climate summit wraps up in the Middle East, it reminds us of the issues we have with energy right here at home in the Midwestern United States.
There is a natural gas capacity issue in Steuben County that is likely going to impact more localities than the ultimate community in the far northeast of the state. (End of line as Steuben is end of line for electric and gas utilities provided by NIPSCO.)
This problem has come to light in Angola quite recently due to major development projects at Trine University and in the heart of the city with the construction of a new judicial center for the county of Steuben.
But the problem has been more than apparent for two or three years with Fremont, which has been virtually closed for development and commercial expansion.
It will take a lot of work from Steuben County leaders to fix this problem. But it draws attention to what should be an obvious part of the thinking process as we design and build more public facilities in northeast Indiana.
In all of our communities there is constant talk of building new prisons, work releases, office buildings and justice centres.
We don’t recall much or no consideration being given to integrating renewable energy into these projects.
With the new Steuben County Judicial Center there will be a vast expanse of flat roofs. It was not considered to install solar panels on the roof of this installation.
Keeping an eye on Steuben County, look at all the buildings on the government campus – except for the 1868 Steuben County Courthouse and the Old Jail from the same era – and they all have roofs dishes. There are hundreds of square feet of surface that could incorporate solar panels.
This doesn’t solve the natural gas capacity problem (and the federal government is trying to get the country off gas), but it could allow the local government to cut costs and possibly consider using more electricity – something unheard of in the past – for utility purposes.
Consider Fremont Community Schools. He pays almost nothing for electricity thanks to the 1.7 megawatt solar panel he installed in 2017.
“We save about $200,000 a year with the solar field. That’s after you pay the lease,” said Fremont Superintendent Bill Stitt.
Once the equipment lease is paid off, the savings will be phenomenal.
In Kendallville, 85% of the city’s wastewater treatment plant operating costs are covered by its McCray Solar Field on the site of the former refrigeration manufacturing plant. The flat roof of the Community Learning Center (formerly the former East Noble Middle School in Kendallville) is covered with solar panels, providing power to the huge complex.
In Hamilton, Hamilton Community Schools is expected to save about $40,000 a year in utility costs thanks to a solar system it contracted to be installed with a local company that is making investments with government entities, EnTrust, based in Angola.
Many local businesses have installed their own systems, such as Wible’s Hardwoods, South Milford, which uses its solar panel to offset the cost of running its factory. Reliable Tool and Machine, Kendallville, uses its solar panels to offset the cost of running its operations. There are many other examples in our community.
It makes sense that the government continues to invest in renewable energy sources. The cost of energy will only increase, as it always has.
If government entities planning to build facilities with flat roofs or properties with large tracts of land aren’t considering installing solar (or wind, for that matter), it’s a disservice to taxpayers. who end up paying for these projects.