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From left, Jacob Wood and Eric Hansen of True South and Darex Operations Director Ryan Folkestad discuss the benefits of a new solar electric system on the roof of Darex in Ashland Monday. - Julia Moore

Energy savings through the roof

What may be the biggest solar electric array in the region has been built on the roof of Darex, where it will supply more than half of the company's electricity, executives say.

The two 55-kilowatt systems comprising 481 photo-voltaic panels cover most of the flat roof of Darex, makers of industrial drill sharpeners on Hersey Street. The system cost $500,000, but 80 percent of it is being paid for by government tax credits and incentives, company officials say.

"Investing in solar power is a sound business decision (and) is directly in line with us striving to be a steward of the environment," said Ryan Folkestad, operations director. "We plan on being around longer than this system, and we get good financial return from generating our own energy.

"We were generating electricity the other day when it was raining," he added. "This is really fun."

Darex's investment is projected to yield an initial internal rate of return of 17 percent over 35 years, according to a news release from True South, the Ashland company that designed, engineered and built the solar array.

"For perspective, (it) will offset the energy consumed by approximately 13 typical Ashland households," the release said. "Over its 25-year life, it will save almost 3,000 tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from polluting the atmosphere, or the equivalent of over 5.8 million auto miles."

The array lies flat, instead of being perpendicular to the sun's rays, because it avoids the increased materials, labor and "wind loading" from being elevated into the air, said Jacob Wood, sales and design manager of True South.

The panels had to be planned and spaced around the roof's many HVAC installations or the array would have been even bigger, he said.

The credits and incentives from the state cover half the project, while federal breaks take out 30 percent of the cost, company officials said. The rest of the cost should be made up through energy savings in four years, they said.

Wood said the array is about twice as big as anything True South has built or is aware of in the region, although it would be nothing special in California.

"The three key states are Oregon, California and New Jersey, because of the tax incentives they've set up," said Wood. "Oregon is about five or six years behind the California solar industry."

Other, less tangible benefits of solar, Folkestad said, are that it's silent, reduces carbon output, gives power during peak load periods, cuts the need to build power plants and lines, produces no hazardous waste, and "you get to watch your meter turn backwards" because excess power is transferred to the regional grid, with cost savings for owners.

Ashland Mayor John Stromberg is set to power up the system during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. Thursday.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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