Solar Power: A Hot New Trend in the Fire Service

April 1, 2005

When Chief Ken Collins of the Union City, GA, Fire Department designed the city’s newest fire station, his goal was to make it as energy efficient as possible. By the time he got up from the drawing table, it was determined that the new Station 1 would not only save on utilities, but actually make money as well.

The secret to this Georgia revenue producer lies on its roof. In addition to energy-saving appliances, storm windows and thick insulation, the station sports a roof covered with solar panels. These strategically placed photoelectric cells produce enough electricity to power the fire station as well as surplus kilowatts to sell to the local power company. In fact, Georgia Power buys an average of 90 to 125 kilowatts per billing period directly from Station 1.

Although the collection of solar panels is capable of providing electricity for the entire station, none of it is used by the firefighters. Taking into account the 10 to 15 years needed to recoup the initial cost of the panels, Collins explains that it is financially advantageous to sell all of the generated electricity and then buy back what is needed for the station.

Based on a 20-year life expectancy for the solar panels, Station 1 will still be making money long after many of the Union City firefighters have retired. By channeling the power of the sun to generate extra revenue, this Georgia fire department has definitely hit on a bright idea.

Bill May, a Firehouse® correspondent, is a captain and 21-year veteran of the Atlanta Fire Department. He has served on the department as an instructor at the training academy and an officer in the field. May is currently assigned to the fire chief’s office in charge of special projects.

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