Durham flips switch on solar panels to power newest fire station

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Watch how a solar panel converts the energy of the sun into renewable electricity to power homes and businesses.

Emergency personnel working at the city’s newest fire station are going green.

Durham Fire and EMS Station 17 is the first fire station in the city that can generate its own electricity from the sun, officials say.

Three other stations have passive solar collectors that heat water, according to the fire department.

The city-county Station 17 at 5502 Leesville Road serves fast-growing southeast Durham near the Durham-Wake county line.

“In a facility that will serve its community for 50 years, the solar array makes great sense from a fiscal and a renewable energy perspective,” Fire Chief Robert Zoldos said.

The 46 kilowatt solar array has 172 panels and will generate about 60,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, officials estimate. That’s about 60% of the station’s annual electricity consumption.

The system cost $84,150, but the city got a rebate of $28,732 from Duke Energy, for a net cost of $55,418, according to a news release. Officials expect the panels to save about $5,500 per year and pay for themselves in about a dozen years.

The environmental impact will be significant, officials say.

They expect an annual reduction of 42.4 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, or the equivalent of 4,774 gallons of gasoline, from the solar panels, the release says.

“This project is a great example of our city’s commitment to renewable energy and environmental sustainability,” said Jina Propst, assistant director of the General Services Department. “We look forward to the environmental benefits and cost savings that this project will provide for years to come.”

Durham’s 2018 Roadmap to Sustainability aims for the city to achieve carbon neutrality in operations by 2040. The City Council adopted a resolution in May calling for city operations to use 80% renewable energy by 2030, and 100% renewable energy by 2050.

Retired engineer Bruce Duckett, of the Biloxi, Miss., area, shares his experience with solar panel installation. His panels generate about a third of his power needs, cutting his electrical bill by that much. He financed the system with no money d

What other cities have done

Durham is joining other cities that are installing solar panels on city-owned rooftops.

Last summer, the Apex earmarked $500,000 to install solar panels on town buildings. A planned maintenance facility will also get solar panels and be built to higher energy-efficiency standards.

Cary also has taken steps to produce clean energy, including a solar farm at the South Cary Water Reclamation Facility.

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Joe Johnson is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer. He most recently covered towns in western Wake County and Chatham County. Before that, he covered high school sports for The Herald-Sun.