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Municipal water authorities wanted for solar program: Courtesy of Broad Top Township…By Anya Litvak / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Municipal water authorities wanted for solar program

May 31, 2016 7:49 AM

Courtesy of Broad Top Township
Broad Top Township in Bedford County now makes about half of the energy used by the water pumps at its wastewater operations through solar panels. The township installed the 69 kilowatt system in 2011.

By Anya Litvak / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Ed Johnstonbaugh figures there are about 100 water authorities in southwestern Pennsylvania suffering the same symptoms: a shrinking and aging customer population, declining levels of employment, and an electricity bill that sucks up most of their operating budget.

The cure or, at least, the treatment he has proposed is sunshine.

A renewable energy educator with Penn State Extension-Westmoreland, Mr. Johnstonbaugh is rolling out a program to install large solar systems at water and wastewater authorities in Armstrong, Greene, Fayette, Indiana, Washington and Westmoreland counties. The Renewable Energy for Municipal Authorities Project, or REMAP, is beginning to survey these entities to gauge interest with the goal of selecting the first five projects by early next year.

Mr. Johnstonbaugh envisions projects up to 500 kilowatts in capacity — most residential rooftop systems are below 10 kilowatts — which could draw enough energy from the sun to cover 100 percent of the water authorities’ demand. The solar panels would be connected to the grid and their production netted against the facilities’ demand in a practice called net metering.

“They’re ideal candidates because of their load types,” he said. Water authorities require constant pumping to move their product. The electricity that feeds those pumps is usually the single largest operating expense for these facilities by a long shot, Mr. Johnstonbaugh said.

The program was inspired by Broad Top Township, a rural speck in Bedford County that, in 2011, installed a solar system that generates about 50 percent of the electricity used to pump water at its treatment plants.

Broad Top is exactly the type of township that Mr. Johnstonbaugh is targeting.

There are about 1,600 residents, “mostly elderly, retired people,” said David Thomas, township secretary.

“There’s very little business,” he said. “But what we did have in the township is a lot of problems.”

About 15 years ago, most of the wastewater systems servicing Broad Top were failing and pipelines carried waste right into streams.

The township came up with a plan to renovate the system and take care of its acid mine drainage issues at the same time, all while keeping water bills at $20 a month and providing free garbage collection.

“Everything we do, we’re very cognizant of the cost,” Mr. Thomas said.

It was so careful about its electricity use that a professional energy audit found there was nothing more the township could do to cut it. That got Broad Top’s board looking at generating electricity instead.

Broad Top got a federal stimulus grant — Mr. Thomas underscored the program wouldn’t have happened without government funding — and installed a 69 kilowatt solar system. The whole thing cost $412,000 with the township contributing $120,000.

Monaca Borough is in the process of installing a 55 kilowatt solar array at its water reservoir, where 90 percent of the operating cost comes from the electric pumps.

The $150,000 project, half of which is being funded by a state grant, is expected to make enough electricity to offset about 40 percent of the reservoir’s pumps.

Mr. Johnstonbaugh is thinking bigger -— $1 million projects, or as large as finances and land allow. Grant funding and other financial assistance will be key to the REMAP program, he said, listing off a number of agencies that might be handing out money for this type of effort, although his long-term goal is to establish a revolving loan fund and expand the program throughout the state.

“Who can argue with keeping a municipal water authority financial sound and viable to do all the good things they do?” Mr. Johnstonbaugh said.

Anya Litvak: or 412-263-1455.



Erik A. Ross

Senior Lobbyist

Gmerek Government Relations, Inc.

The Locust Court Building

212 Locust Street Suite 300

Harrisburg, PA 17101

(717) 234-8525

(717) 574-3963 (Cell)

(717) 234-8812 (Fax)


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