Solar power approved for city-owned buildings

North Vernon is turning to a natural energy source to power city-owned buildings and cut its utility costs.

The city will convert its facilities to solar energy after a 4-1 vote in favor at Monday’s city council meeting. Councilman Jerry Lamb was the only dissenting vote.

“I believe we are the first city in Indiana to do this. We are able to make it work because we have so many green spaces spread around the city. Some of the solar panels will be installed on the ground and some will be installed on rooftops,” said North Vernon Mayor Mike Ochs, who proposed the possibility to the council months ago.

The mayor called the decision “fantastic” and an “exciting adventure.”

“I knew the library was very pleased with their move to solar energy, and I was familiar with the success of solar at the Indianapolis (International) Airport, so I have been thinking about the possibility of going solar to save money when I heard our own airport was developing a plan to go solar. I asked them to wait and see if we just couldn’t convert all the city at the same time and better serve the whole community,” Ochs added.

The Jennings County Public Library converted to solar energy in 2014.

“The Library Board took a leap of faith to start our solar program, and I can tell you, we are very, very happy with our move to solar energy. Not only do we not pay electric bills, we have actually made a profit by selling our excess energy. We are actually thinking about expanding our solar panels,” library director Mary Hougland said.

City officials, including the mayor and the city attorney, came to the library to check its solar setup, Hougland said.

The final proposal to convert city utilities to solar energy was delayed until Monday’s meeting because of some questions that needed to be researched.

“I pay 99 meter bills every month, so if there is a way to save money I am all for it. But the devil is always in the details, and we wanted to slow things down a bit to make sure we have all of our T’s crossed and our I’s dotted,” North Vernon Clerk-Treasurer Shawn Gerkin said.

Johnson-Melloh Solutions has been selected to convert North Vernon to solar energy. Johnson-Melloh Solutions installed the solar panels at the library and also were involved in establishment of solar energy at the Indianapolis International Airport.

Ochs said the work should be complete in less than a year.