By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Bowling Green is now second only to Oberlin in Ohio for the percentage of renewable power in its energy portfolio.
As if on cue, the rain stopped and the sun came out for the dedication of the new Bowling Green solar field on Thursday afternoon.
The 165-acre solar field, which started producing power earlier this year, is the largest solar site in Ohio. And with a portion of the solar field’s product coming to Bowling Green, the city can now boast the second highest percentage of renewable energy in the state.
“I applaud Bowling Green for its forward thinking,” said Pam Sullivan, executive vice president of American Municipal Power.
The solar field, near the corner of Carter and Newton roads northeast of Bowling Green, has 85,000 solar panels that soak up the sun to generate power. The panels rotate with the sun so they can create more energy. On sunny days, the site can peak at 20 megawatts. The portion going to Bowling Green will supply 5 percent of the city’s energy needs.
The addition of the solar field means approximately 40 percent of the city’s energy portfolio is now renewable.
“Everyone from Bowling Green should be very proud of that statistic,” Sullivan said.
The city earned the nickname “Blowing” Green when it had wind turbines installed, Sullivan said. Now it has truly earned the “Green” portion of its name, she added.
It’s been a long journey for the city to go so green, said Brian O’Connell, public utilities director for the city. It started in 1999, when the city first purchased hydro power from American Municipal Power. Then in 2003, the wind turbines were installed west of the city near the county landfill. In 2007, more hydro power was purchased.
When O’Connell took over as utilities director in 2001, “almost immediately I was asked, ‘When are we going to get more renewable energy?’”
“I hope this exceeds the expectations,” O’Connell said to the crowd gathered under a tent next to the solar field for the dedication. “I’m happy to be part of the team that put this together.”
It took some convincing though, to get the solar firms on board.
Matt Handel, vice president of NextEra Energy Resources, admitted he was doubtful when his company was first approached by AMP.
“We’re busy in Arizona, California and Nevada,” Handel said. “But not yet in Ohio.”
However, the enthusiasm behind the project helped push it through. “A light went on,” he said. And now public power companies that never would have considered solar before are now taking a chance.
The power generated by the 85,000 panels in the Bowling Green solar field can produce enough energy to power 3,000 homes in Ohio. The green energy is the equivalent of taking more than 5,000 cars off the road or 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide out of the air, Handel said.
The solar site has 85,000 panels State Senator Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, praised the city’s forward thinking and commitment to energy diversity.
“I happen to believe in the ‘all of the above’ energy portfolio,” he said.
Ann Longsworth-Orr, from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office, noted that clean air and clean water are no longer at odds with good jobs. Economic growth no longer has to be linked to carbon emissions, she said.
Bowling Green Mayor Dick Edwards gave much of the credit for the green energy emphasis to the city’s independent board of public utilities.
“What a wonderful day for the citizens of Bowling Green and Wood County,” Edwards said. “All of us share in that great feeling of pride. This is a wonderful collaborative effort.”
The mayor announced an open house for the public will be held at the solar field on May 20, with more details to come.
“People are interested all over the place,” he said.