MILLHEIM â€” The sun is shining on the borough facilities in Millheim and those rays are paying dividends for the community.
For the last couple of months, the community has been using the sunâ€™s solar energy to provide nearly 100 percent of its needed electricity at the municipal building and sewer plant. The initiative has brought down the energy bill in Millheim considerably.
The solar electric system was activated on Aug. 19, and according to Borough Council President Robert Zeigler, the system will produce about 315 kilowatts of electricity, or about 400,000 kilowatt-hours per year.
Zeigler explained Millheim is currently under contract with the West Penn Power Co., covering a 2-mile radius from the plant.
Through this agreement, cost of the power was set at 7.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, but a lump sum prepayment option brought the cost down to 5.3 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Zeigler said the exact savings to the borough are not known yet, but he expects to see a drop in power costs of $5,000 to $10,000 per year. An additional benefit of the system is that the power generated is completely pollutionfree.
Zeigler said the system is producing more power than expected, due to the large number of sunny days this summer and fall.
The system consists of eight banks of south-facing photovoltaic cells inclined at a 30-degree angle to produce maximum exposure to sunlight. It is located behind the Penn Township sewer plant on Tattletown Road between Millheim and Coburn.
The solar cells produce direct current, with inverters that change it to 408 volts alternating current to feed the grid.
The community leader said the sewer plant will consume about 85 percent of the solar-generated power, and the rest will feed into West Pennâ€™s grid and will be sufficient to power the borough building, street lights, traffic light, and pumps in the water filtration plant.
Zeigler originated the idea for the solar electric system, stating he conducted the research and learned about the solar carport constructed at Burkholderâ€™s Market, near Millheim.
â€śThey were an inspiration,â€ť he said.
The BAI Group (formerly Blazosky Associates Inc.) in State College performed an analysis, and decided that a solar electric system was feasible for Millheim.
The Solar Renewable Energy Co. constructed the system, and gave the borough a discount on the cost.
Zeigler said the solar panels are known as a Tier 1 system, which cost more than some cells, but are guaranteed to work for 30 years.
â€śThe wire is going to wear out before the panels,â€ť he said.
The system requires virtually no maintenance and runs at an efficiency of about 20 percent, which Zeigler said sounds like a low number, but noted the highest efficiency in the solar cell industry is at about 28 percent.
Zeigler said he is proud of the new system and the renaissance of Millheim in recent years.
â€śNot many municipalities can say they have their own system that can generate nearly 100 percent of their power,â€ť he said.