Solar panels on Concord parking deck

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 9, 2012

By Kathy Chaffin
Three solar panel canopies installed on top of the City of Concord’s Downtown Municipal Parking Deck are expected to generate enough electricity each year to power six 3,000-square-foot homes.
Funding for the $497,500 project was provided by a $245,482 grant the city received from the North Carolina Energy Office’s North Carolina Main Street Energy II Grant program and private investor Stefan Gleason, owner of Hyperion Energy LLC.
The system was installed by Argand Energy Solutions LLC of Charlotte. Hyperion will pay the city $600 for the first year and $300 every year thereafter for allowing the more than 250 solar modules that make up three carport-style units on the parking deck.
Argand used American-made Suniva modules mounted on aluminum structures, also made in America, to create the solar panel system. The lifespan of solar panels is 25 to 40 years.
Steve Osborne, deputy director for planning and neighborhood development, described the solar panel canopy as “a laboratory for renewal energy.”
“We’ve reached out to all the public and private schools in the county,” he said, “as well as Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.” 
Osborne said individuals who are interested are also invited to contact county officials about going to see how the panels transfer solar energy to the inverter to the transformer that transfers it back to the city’s electrical grid.
Another benefit of the solar canopies is that they provide shade for people who park on the deck. Osborne said it would cost about $200,000 to build canopies to provide shade for the people who use the 32 parking spaces underneath the canopy.
Those are two ways the City of Concord benefits from the project, he said. Then there’s the benefit of reducing greenhouse gases by producing renewable energy from the sun instead of using fossil fuel.
Osborne said the project had received lots of publicity since the Jan. 10 ribbon-cutting event and that response from the public had been very supportive. 
“We’ve heard nothing but positive comments,” he said, including, “It’s very progressive” and “It’s good to see the renewal energy.”
Erik Lensch, president of Argand Energy Solutions, said he and his staff were excited to be part of such a great project.
“To have one of the only solar-covered parking decks in North Carolina is something that the City of Concord can really be proud of,” he said. “The City of Concord has been honored for its commitment to sustainability, and this is one more step in the right direction, and a very visible one at that.”
Chatham Olive, vice president of Business Development and Community Relations for Argand, said the price of installing solar energy has dropped dramatically, making it more feasible than ever. 
“When compared to the never-ending rise of prices for energy produced from polluting fossil fuels,” he said, “solar is now a no-brainer. Why not invest in clean energy from the sun when you can lock in your energy cost for 30 years at today’s prices?”
Olive, a longtime member of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA), praised the organization for collecting information about renewable energy projects in the state to help companies make investment decisions. “To be competitive for new jobs and new industries,” he said, “North Carolina must be clean and green.”   
It was through NCSEA that Gleason learned about the Concord Downtown Municipal Parking Deck project. This is his first investment in solar energy.