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Wednesday, 02 March 2011 19:55

Local nursing home celebrates solar panel installation

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By DeeAnna Haney • SMN Intern

Perched atop a Canton nursing home roof, gleaming in the sun is the newest addition to the building, bringing it to the forefront of the green initiative in North Carolina.

Silver Bluff Village held a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week to celebrate the installation of a new solar energy system. It is the first nursing facility in the state to harness the sun for the building’s hot water needs.

Provided by SolTherm, a clean energy services firm based in Asheville, the 32 4-by-10 foot panels will provide up to 50 percent of the facility’s hot water consumption including bathing, cooking and other dietary requirements.

When SolTherm first approached Silver Bluff owners Bob and Lisa Leatherwood about how a solar energy project could benefit the 195-bed nursing home, the couple had already committed to reducing energy usage by replacing their plumbing fixtures, all light bulbs and upgrading their wastewater treatment facility.

The idea of using alternative water heating sources had crossed their minds during this building transformation two years ago, but they were sure the project would be far too expensive.

But SolTherm’s research results on the building quickly changed the couple’s minds. The company found that a solar hot water energy system would reduce the nursing home’s energy costs by 10 percent immediately, saving them an estimated $315,000 over 20 years if they participated in the NoCapEx program. (This number is assuming propane prices continue to increase at six percent each year).

Bob Leatherwood said he first thought it was too good to be true. With NoCapEx, the company promised to front the solar panel equipment and installation with no upfront cost to Silver Bluff. In return, the Leatherwoods were asked to sign a 20-year contract and pay a monthly fee.

After SolTherm’s proposal, Lisa Leatherwood said the decision to install was a “no-brainer.” “All we had to do was provide the building,” she said.

The Heliodyne solar panels capture the sun’s thermal energy by heated fluids in the solar collectors and then send it to heat exchangers. The solar heated water is then stored in a 2,000-gallon tank and can be used throughout the day.

According to SolTherm’s Web site, SolTherm.com, traditional hot water heaters waste as much as 35 percent fossil fuels. The solar panels work to reduce the use of a hot water heater thus saving money and environmental impact.

“This is something we would encourage anybody to look at and we’re very excited and glad to be an example in the community,” Bob Leatherwood said at the ceremony.

Lisa Leatherwood said she is pleased with the results of the solar panels already. The online monitoring system inside the building that tracks the system’s progress reads the facility has saved 225 trees, 221 gallons of gas and 6,746 vehicle miles to date.

“We’re proud to reduce our carbon footprint, create jobs and of course save money,” she said.

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