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October 24, 2020

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ONU launches $4 million solar array project

11-acre solar field puts ONU in forefront of sustainable energy on Ohio campuses

 By Monty Siekerman
The sun shone brightly when officials gathered Tuesday morning to celebrate the beginning of construction of an 11-acre solar field that will put Ohio Northern in the forefront of sustainable energy on college campuses in Ohio.

The $4 million project, located along Klingler Road south of the stadium, joins previous projects: geothermal, which benefits several residence halls, and the three wind turbines.

The new solar array project (array means arranging things in order, like 18,000 panels, in this case) will produce two megawatts of power annually.  Ohio Northern is guaranteed the same electric rate for 25 years, which could be a substantial saving to ONU over time.

During the ceremony, Caleb Stuart, from Ada, was recognized as being the first student to work with the project in his studies. He has an internship this semester as a construction management student in the department of technology. Caleb, a junior, is the son of Fred and Susan Stuart.

"I'm learning a lot about the management side of construction practices and how a project goes from start to finish," Stuart said.

Also recognized was Bill Spiker, president of the Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges, who was instrumental in lining up the finances for the array. Bill is an ONU law grad and served three years in the law admission office before moving on.

University President Dan DiBiasio also gave credit to Terry Keiser, director of sustainability, who quarterbacked the project with ONU, the OFIC, GEM Energy, and other parties.

GEM Energy of Walbridge, Ohio, is the solar project developer and will design, construct, operate, and maintain the ground-mounted solar array.

Jason Slattery, GEMs director for this project, said, "This will have the latest and greatest in solar technology," noting that advances in solar technology are coming rapidly.

Using thin-film panels from First Solar, the array will include a tracker that moves panels to follow the sun, allowing maximum solar harvest.

ONU will purchase electricity directly from the array without needing to invest capital in the array’s construction and maintenance.  

The project will produce two megawatts of electricity annually, or about 10% of ONU's electric consumption. It will reduce carbon emissions by 2,200 tons. How much is two megawatts? Enough to supplying 400 to 1,000 average homes per megawatt annually, depending on who you Google.

Last year, GEM Energy was the 15th largest company in the U.S. of solar designed and built projects. It is part of the Rudolph Libbe Group.

All the while, as officials spoke, work was proceeding on the project: the rat-tat-tat of machinery in the background on a sunny day, a sun that will certainly benefit ONU in the future at next to no cost to the university.


• Terry Keiser, Caleb Stuart,  Dan DiBiasio, Bill Spiker and Jason Slattery.
• Caleb Stuart signs solar panel
• Work already underway on the grounds.