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Published: Wednesday, 4/14/2010

Skyway going solar on $1.5M U.S. grant

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Officials of Xunlight Corp. of Toledo display one of the firm's solar panels at the announcement that Xunlight and First Solar Inc. will supply panels for the project, expected to be operating by late autumn. From left are Todd Armstrong, CEO and President Xunming Deng, David Swank, and John Buckey. Officials of Xunlight Corp. of Toledo display one of the firm's solar panels at the announcement that Xunlight and First Solar Inc. will supply panels for the project, expected to be operating by late autumn. From left are Todd Armstrong, CEO and President Xunming Deng, David Swank, and John Buckey.
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When the Veterans' Glass City Skyway opened nearly three years ago, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) called it "a civic cathedral in the sky."

She reprised that description yesterday while giving the bridge yet another nickname: the "Solar Skyway," reflecting the imminent fulfillment of a challenge she issued June 23, 2007, to build a solar-panel array to power the I-280 bridge's lights.

Miss Kaptur added that nickname during a news conference to announce a $1.5 million federal grant to pay for building an array of solar panels for the Skyway along I-280 near Central Avenue. The conference was held at the marine passenger terminal on Front Street with the Skyway bridge visible in the background.

Using panels manufactured by two local solar companies, the array will be the first of its kind along an Ohio highway and will test the solar devices' effectiveness and durability in a roadside environment that will subject them to weather, road dust, vibration, and - possibly - vandalism.

Construction will begin in June, and the system should be operating by late autumn, said Richard Martinko, executive director of the University of Toledo Intermodal Transportation Institute, which will monitor and analyze the system's performance and prepare a report next year. The project will include a public Web site with real-time monitoring.

The 280 kilowatt-hours of electricity the panels are expected to generate will power the bridge's pylon lighting and part of its roadway lighting, Mr. Martinko said.

In announcing U.S. Department of Transportation funding for the project, Miss Kaptur said it will "light the way" for similar solar-power applications along highways throughout Ohio and across the United States.

"It will define our region as a solar center for innovation," she said. Not only will the array support local jobs and research, it will reduce the bridge's lighting costs for decades to come.

"We will harness the emerging expertise in northwest Ohio in alternative energy development," said David Dysard, ODOT's district deputy director in Bowling Green. "This will be a landmark facility to power a landmark structure."

Xunlight Inc. and First Solar Inc. will each provide half the solar equipment for the project, which will allow the two firms' technologies to be compared in the field, Mr. Martinko said. Xunlight is headquartered in Toledo; First Solar was founded in Toledo and maintains its only U.S. factory in Perrysburg Township.

The research portion of the project will have a budget of about $580,000, to be funded jointly by ODOT and the university.

Mr. Martinko said the two solar firms contributed to the project by giving the state a 10 percent discount on their products' prices.

"We're proud to be part of this landmark project," Xunming Deng, Xunlight's president and chief executive officer, said afterward. "Our products are very suitable for applications in highway rights-of-way. It is a high honor for us to be involved with this landmark bridge."

The solar array is to be set up on and near a south-facing embankment along Central near the bridge over I-280, just north of the I-280 Greenbelt Parkway interchange at the Skyway's north end.

To expedite the project, it will use standard solar panels and support structures from the two manufacturers. But Miss Kaptur said the solar array could be modified later to include decorative panels and supports that would transform the array into a functioning work of public art, much as the Skyway itself was designed to be aesthetically pleasing.

Mr. Dysard also noted that solar panels on I-280 will be one of two alternative-energy projects ODOT is undertaking in northwest Ohio this year. The transportation department also plans to build a wind turbine to power a rest area along State Rt. 2 near Camp Perry in Ottawa County that is to be renovated this spring.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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