MTD turns to solar energy

Champaign-Urbana MTD will soon install solar panels on top of its garage at 803 E. University Ave. The Illinois Department of Transportation recently signed off on a $1.1 million contract that will allow the project to be completed next year.

The project involves purchasing and installing a solar panel array on the roof of MTD’s maintenance department. During the prime solar season, the solar panels will produce enough electricity to power the entire maintenance department, said Karl Gnadt, MTD’s director of market development.

“In fact, it will produce more electricity than what the maintenance department uses,” Gnadt said.

MTD’s excess solar energy will earn energy credits from Ameren, a holding company for many power and energy companies. During winter months, earned energy credits can be cashed in for power, which will drastically lower outside energy usage and costs, Gnadt said.

“When the days are shorter and cloudier and we’re not generating enough power to power the entire building, then we’ll cash in those credits, so to speak, with Ameren, for the makeup power,” he said.

Gnadt said the state of Illinois will pay 65 percent of the cost of the project, and MTD will cover the remaining 35 percent, as outlined in a grant agreement that began July 1.

The project components have been ordered and are expected to arrive within the next six to eight weeks, Gnadt said, adding that during December, the company will begin looking into installation. A local Champaign business, Glesco Electric, will install the panels.

“We’re going to set up a fully functional (system). I would say about 60 percent of the roof up there … gets covered by solar panels,” said Phil Lowery, vice president of Glesco Electric. “That power will only be used for the MTD. It doesn’t go back in on the grid, it just gets used for lights and heat and cooling in the bus maintenance facility.”

A total of 1,212 4-by-3 foot panels will be installed over a period of three months, Lowery said.

Champaign-Urbana MTD has been a member of the United States Green Building Council since 2008. Gnadt said the Green Building Council is an entity that recognizes organizations who take steps to make their facilities as sustainable as possible. Illinois Terminal is preparing to register as an official United States Green Building Council LEED Existing Building Project in 2013, according to MTD’s website.

MTD previously installed a white roof constructed of materials that reflect more than 70 percent of sunlight on its administration facility in 2010, Gnadt said. This reduces the amount of heat absorbed and lowers air conditioning costs.

A few of MTD’s other major ecofriendly projects include the installation of a new bus washer that reduces water usage, a permeable parking lot that allows groundwater to seep back into the earth and a geothermal heating and cooling system that uses the planet’s natural temperature to heat and cool the administration facility, he said.

MTD also hopes to continue increasing the number of hybrid buses included in its fleet. Currently, 55 of MTD’s 102 buses are hybrid, according to data obtained from the MTD.

“It’s always nice to see the campus going green,” said Jennifer Woodyard, sophomore in ACES. “It’s nice to see companies that aren’t directly related to the University helping going green. It shows that the community is putting forth an effort to be more sustainable.”

Brittney can be reached at [email protected]

Editor’s note: A previous version of the graphic for this article incorrectly labeled the lines. Passenger rides should have been indicated with light blue, while gallons of diesel should’ve been indicated with dark blue. The Daily Illini regrets this error.