Motor malfunction casts shade on Oberlin College solar energy output


By Evan Goodenow - egoodenow@civitasamedia.com



Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune Oberlin College uses a 2.27 megawatt solar panel array on North Professor Street. Solar energy generation from the panels has decreased between 30 and 40 percent since April when the four motors that rotate the 7,500 panels malfunctioned.


The huge solar panel array at Oberlin College is in, well, disarray.

Electrical output from the panels is down 30 to 40 percent per month since motors that rotated the panels broke in April. That’s according to Chad Roach, director of project delivery for Colorado-based Spear Point Energy, the company that owns the panels.

“The system is still currently operating and producing energy but is unable to track the sun as originally designed,” Roach said. “We shut down the tracking capability to not cause any further damage to the system until we can fix the system. However, it is important to know that the inverters are still operating and therefore the system is currently still producing energy.”

The panels generate 2.27 megawatts. Roach said a single megawatt of solar generation powers about 164 homes annually so the array would power about 350 homes per year.

Oberlin Municipal Lightand Power System buys about 2,900 megawatts of power from the college annually for $85 per megawatt hour, said Steve Dupee, the utility’s electric director. He said OMLPS can purchase electricity elsewhere and customers haven’t been affected by the production decline.

The 775 panels went online in October 2012. They are part of the school’s clean energy commitment.

The college paid Spear Point $5 million to install the solar array, pre-paying for electricity generated by the panels. It also agreed to sell power from the panels to OMLPS. A $2.2 million federal tax credit covered the remainder of the cost.

The panels are part of the college’s clean energy commitment. In 2009, the college and city formed the Oberlin Project, an environmental and economic initiative focused on increasing use of renewable energy including solar and wind power. Last month, the college hosted “After Fossil Fuels,” a conference featuring clean energy advocates and experts including solar power supporters.

The array supplied about 12 percent of the college’s electricity in 2013 and about 16 percent in 2014, according to Bridget Flynn, the college’s environmental sustainability coordinator. The percentage from last year was unavailable.

Roach attributed the repair delay to Sun Edison, the company that purchased SPG Solar, the company that installed the panels and system. He said Sun Edison filed for bankruptcy in April and Spear Point filed a warranty claim to get the repairs done.

However, Roach said Sun Edison was “unresponsive” to Spear Point’s claim. Sun Edison had $16 billion in debt through last September, according to Reuters. It’s under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission over allegations company officials paid off loans with money that was supposed to be used for solar projects, according to the Los Angeles Times.

With repairs by Sun Edison unlikely, Roach said Spear Point contacted a “reputable national solar contractor” that has experience with the system and access to the specialized parts needed for the repair.

“We want to reiterate that we are a committed partner with Oberlin College and appreciate the patience from the school and their team while we have worked through this challenging issue,” Roach said. “We thank Oberlin College for their continued support and look forward to continued partnership for years to come.”

Roach said in the email that the contractor would be onsite last Tuesday. However, two days later Roach said the contractor wouldn’t be onsite until after Thanksgiving.

He wouldn’t say how long the repairs would take, how much they would cost, or who the contractor was.

Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.

Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune Oberlin College uses a 2.27 megawatt solar panel array on North Professor Street. Solar energy generation from the panels has decreased between 30 and 40 percent since April when the four motors that rotate the 7,500 panels malfunctioned.

http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/44/2016/11/web1_SolarPanel.jpg

Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune Oberlin College uses a 2.27 megawatt solar panel array on North Professor Street. Solar energy generation from the panels has decreased between 30 and 40 percent since April when the four motors that rotate the 7,500 panels malfunctioned.

By Evan Goodenow

egoodenow@civitasamedia.com