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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
A "Block O" will soon appear on the roof of an Ohio State University recreation center, but it won't be solely for decoration. It'll also be soaking up the sun.
AEP Energy has begun installing a solar array on the roof of Ohio State's Recreation & Physical Activity Center on W. 17th Avenue, one that it will own and operate.
Experts say it's the latest in a series of projects around the country that use "green" energy on college campuses.
Once the project is complete, around the end of September, OSU will pay AEP Energy 4 cents per kilowatt-hour of energy to use the electricity the panels produce -- an anticipated 116,000 kilowatt-hours per year.
The charge is below market price and less than OSU typically pays for electricity, said Gina Langen, spokeswoman for the OSU Office of Energy and Environment, but she could not specify how much less. The agreement is for eight years, and both partners have an option to renew.
AEP Energy is an unregulated electricity provider owned by Columbus-based utility American Electric Power.
"This is kind of a first for AEP Energy, as far as I know," said AEP spokeswoman Tammy Ridout. "It's more of a gift to the university."
The savings aren't necessarily why OSU opted to have the solar array installed.
Langen said the panels give the university a chance to diversify its energy portfolio. "This was an opportunity to get solar into our energy mix on campus," she said.
"We're just trying to be responsible, be good stewards of the environment."
Langen said other OSU facilities have solar panels, including the Center for Automotive Research on Kinnear Road and Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island in Lake Erie. But neither of those is on Ohio State's main campus or the size of this AEP Energy project, she noted.
Ohio State also uses energy from a wind farm, something that landed it in the No. 4 spot on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's most recent list of largest green-power users among colleges and universities in the Green Power Partnership.
The partnership is a voluntary program encouraging organizations to use renewable energy, said Mollie Lemon, its program manager. The partnership has 129 colleges and universities, she said.
Mitchell Thomashow of Second Nature, which promotes sustainable energy practices at colleges and universities, said OSU's solar panels represent a larger trend that's still in its early stages.
"What's happened is that the price point of solar has really become competitive," he said. "A place like Ohio State will not do this unless it has worked the numbers and the numbers are beneficial, but that is not the only motivation."
Although Ohio State could be considered a trendsetter for pursuing such a solar-panel project, Thomashow said the university is not the first to get on board.
He also said having corporate sponsors such as AEP Energy for this kind of project is becoming more common. AEP Energy is paying the $400,000 cost, AEP's Ridout said.
The 10,000-square-foot solar array, made up of hundreds of panels, will be shaped like OSU's Block O logo.
The array will be easy to see from airplanes and helicopters, "so it'll just kind of be a good way to bring solar to campus in a visible way," Ridout said.
She said she doesn't know of any AEP Energy plan to install solar panels at other buildings.
"This was kind of a special opportunity that came up and was something that was good for AEP Energy and Ohio State, so we're moving forward with it," Ridout said.