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Miami deems Hodge house solar panel plan too costly

Chelsea Benninger, For The Miami Student

One of the steps Miami University hoped to take to raise its C+ sustainability grade was adding solar panels to the widow's peak of President David Hodge's house.

Hodge's residence was originally considered for a Solar Water Heating System because it is one of five buildings on campus that runs on natural gas, with the additional capability of a solar water heater, according to Scott Scholtz, a senior Engineering major with previous solar energy work experience at SunRock Solar, the solar panel installation company that signed on for the job.

Scholtz came up with the idea of implementing a solar energy project on Miami's campus and was then offered a $10,000 grant by a Miami alumnus. The grant was able to put Scholtz's plan into motion and he said Hodge was very receptive to the idea.

However, despite the $10,000 grant, Scholtz and the donating alumnus deigned the project financially unsound.

Scholtz said because Miami is a public school, there would be no federal or state tax incentives, making solar energy an unattainable goal at the moment due to the high cost of solar panel installation.

"Installing solar energy here would never work because these systems are heavily reliant on federal and state (tax) incentives," Scholtz said. "Typically, a system like this would get 30 percent paid for by federal and 25 percent paid for by state, making payback well under 10 years."

According to a price quote given by SunRock Solar, with no tax incentives, payback for the solar water heating system would cost $15,532 and save an estimated $628 dollars a year.

When asked if solar energy could be accessible in the future Scholtz said, "Maybe if Miami privatizes itself and becomes eligible for government incentives … otherwise there is no way that a solar hot water or photovoltaic system will ever be attractive for Miami to invest in."

Scholtz said Miami should shift its focus for sustainability to educating students how to be sustainable in their lives after graduation.

It seems Miami's Sustainability Report, released April 4, concurs with Scholtz.

One of the seven overarching goals that Miami will work toward to reduce its carbon footprint is engaging sustainability in the classroom by creating "a curriculum that engages students and every faculty member in sustainability issues reaching across all disciplines."

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Miami has already worked towards this goal by adding several majors and minors regarding environmental awareness to the curriculum. Other student groups, such as Redhawk Solar Energy Society and Beyond Coal, work to educate students and advocate for a more sustainable tomorrow.

Further technological improvements may make solar energy affordable for Miami in the future, according to Scholtz.

"Our best chance is to wait for the price for each panel to drop," Scholtz said. "Solar energy will not work until the cost of electricity generated is the same price as the electricity you can purchase from an electrical company."