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Bloomington government to adopt solar power



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Daniel Graber sells fruit at the Bloomington Farmers' Market in 2013 in front of a box of peaches, his main crop. The city's director of economic and sustainability development discussed the city's solar energy initiative at Saturday's market. IDS File Photo Buy Photos

Alex Crowley discussed the city's push toward solar power and sustainable energy with local residents Saturday at the Bloomington Farmers' Market.

Crowley is the city's director of economic and sustainable development, and the event was this week's installment of “Mayor at the Market,” when city officials go to the farmers' market to discuss their planning with local residents.

The next phase of Bloomington’s solar initiative involves bringing five megawatts of solar power to each of 30 city facilities, including recreational centers, parks, utilities centers, City Hall and the Bloomington Police Department, Crowley said.

“We want to generate as much power locally through sustainable means as we can,” he said.

Crowley said Senate Bill 309, which was signed into law in May, would reduce the financial benefits of solar power by requiring users to sell the energy back to energy companies that would then resell the energy back at a higher price.

The law would only affect solar panels installed after 2022, so the city is hoping to install its own panels well before then.

Crowley said the city is in the process of contacting 200 to 250 contractors to put together a team to set up the panels.

“It’s a massive undertaking,” he said.

Crowley said Bloomington is also working with the Solar Indiana Renewable Energy Network to make solar power more affordable through rebates.

He said when they were able to bring solar prices down from $4 to $2.50 per kilowatt hours, 100 people signed up. It was so successful that they extended it to other areas in Bloomington.

“We thought we’d shake out the trees and see what low-hanging fruit would drop, so we expected around 50 people,” he said.

Instead, they got 400, which Crowley said was more than he could have imagined. He said it also showed them solar was something residents wanted to see.

Grace MacNeil, owner of Moon Valley Farm and vendor at the market, said the solar initiative is one sustainability effort she is looking forward to most.

“It’s really great,” she said. “I know Bloomington has been working really hard with this, and we’re excited to see the payoff.”

Crowley said he is planning a workshop in November for small businesses to learn about solar power.

With everything else small business owners have to handle, Crowley said it can be difficult for them to research solar power on their own.

“These business owners are running around with their hair on fire,” he said.

Crowley said he hopes to bring business-owners who have already incorporated solar power to the workshop to give testimonials. He said he also wants to invite solar power and LED lighting companies to talk about the best products, rebates and other ways to save on sustainable energy.

Another vendor at the market, Heartland Family Farm owner Sarah McGee, said moving toward solar power and even LED lights is a huge step in the right direction.

“It’s great,” she said. “It’s great to see the city moving those pieces into place.”

MacNeil said she is looking forward to seeing how increased solar power will transform Bloomington.

“It will make us so much more sustainable as a city,” she said. “That’s something to be really proud of.”

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