'Green' energy: New solar panels at River Hill pool will save CA money

Here comes the sun — and the sustainable solar energy and savings that come with it. That line of thinking has brought 24 solar panels on 12 posts standing on Columbia Association land in River Hill, an array that can be seen from Route 32.

The array, dedicated at a ceremony Saturday morning, is powering both the nearby CA pool in River Hill and the village's "Meeting Room" building, which is used for the pool during the summer months and as a nursery school for the remainder of the year.

"We have a facility here that one way or another is operating year-round, so we can see an annualized benefit," Chick Rhodehamel, CA's director of community development and sustainability, said Saturday

The solar panels' location, off Trotter Road near Great Star Drive, is also highly visible, highlighting CA's efforts, officials said.

"They are kind of a realization for CA that we have to do the right thing," Phil Nelson, the association's president, said Saturday. "One of the things we talk about constantly is sustainability ... especially environmental sustainability."

CA will be dedicating $2 million to sustainability efforts in the next two years, including renewable energy, Nelson said. That money will also go toward reforestation and watershed management, among other projects, Rhodehamel said.

In River Hill, each unit includes two solar panels and a GPS tracker that uses the time of day and its location, rotating to best capture the sun's rays over the course of a day and a year.

Each tracker costs $2,620, according to Columbia-based manufacturer Advanced Technology & Research Corporation. CA spent less than $35,000, including installation costs, Rhodehamel said.

The array, which has been up and running since April 13, will pay for itself within 10 to 11 years, he said.

"These are guaranteed wattage output for 20 years, and the whole time this is free energy," Rhodehamel said.

On a sunny Saturday morning, there was visible evidence that the solar panels were bringing in more energy than was being used — numbers on a digital meter counting downward instead of upward.

During the summer months when the pool is in use, the facility will be powered by the solar array during the day, and then will use utility company-provided electricity as the sun goes down, according to John Williams, a sales representative with Advanced Technology & Research.

Yet the array works year-round, sending energy back into the power grid, he said.

CA board member Michael Cornell of River Hill said the array will produce 9.3 megawatts of power a year, the equivalent of powering 295 houses for a day. The array offsets 6.4 tons of carbon emissions, he said.

"These types of projects are part of the dreaming that we do," he said.

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