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Published: Wednesday, 10/27/2010

Solar panels near I-280 should start generating electricity by January


Two experimental solar-panel arrays now being installed near an I-280 interchange in North Toledo should begin generating electricity — and test data — by early January, Ohio Department of Transportation and University of Toledo officials said during a news conference Wednesday morning.

Under a $1.5 million federal grant, state contractors are putting up solar arrays from two Toledo-area manufacturers, First Solar, Inc. and Xunlight, Inc., to compare how effective and durable they are in a highway environment.

David Dysard, ODOT's district deputy director in Bowling Green, said the project is a "win-win-win situation" because it provides an opportunity for the state to use renewable energy for the nearby Veterans' Glass City Skyway, for the university to do research and provide public education, and for the two manufacturers to test their products.

"This is part of the completion of the Veterans' Glass City Skyway," said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), for whom the project will fulfill a dream and a promise to have power for the $237 million I-280 bridge over the Maumee River provided from a "green source."

The project site is on about four acres on the east side of I-280 between the Greenbelt Parkway interchange and the Central Avenue overpass.

The transportation department estimates that the arrays will generate about 131,000 kilowatt hours annually, or about three quarters of the juice needed for the Skyway's lights. Electricity from the arrays will be fed into the local power grid by day, and ODOT will be credited for that amount against the power the bridge consumes at night.

"This is a great opportunity to take clover leaves and turn them into something more sustainable than we have," said Pete Alyanakian, the national sales manager for First Solar, whose 67-kilowatt solar array will use two different support rack systems, both manufactured in Ohio. Its panels are made in a factory in Perrysburg.

"This is one of our largest projects so far. We are very appreciative of the opportunity to work with ODOT," said Xunming Deng, Xunlight's president and CEO. Xunlight is headquartered in Toledo.

The research portion of the project is expected to have an annual budget of about $500,000, split between ODOT and the university. It will include a Web site where the public can observe how much electricity various portions of the array are generating in real time, said Rich Martinko, director of UT's Intermodal Transportation Institute.

Kiosks with information about the project also will be set up on the university campus and at the I-75 northbound rest area near Bowling Green, Mr. Martinko said.

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