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Berea's Loyal Jones Appalachian Center is powered by the sun

Berea College's Loyal Jones Appalachian Center is the site of a newly installed 15,000-watt photovoltaic collection system. The 66-panel system began producing electricity on March 13 and will assist in powering the center in the Bruce building, which includes the front and rear portions of the first floor, the Artifacts and Exhibits Studio on the second floor, and the Entrepreneurship for the Public Good area on the third floor. The installation contributes to the college’s goal of meeting 10 percent of its energy needs through renewable sources by 2010. The center also is working to reduce energy use by exploring lighting options, energy controls, and usage habits.

Appalachian Center solar array

Environmental preservation of the Appalachian region is a focus of the Center and a major goal has been to meet as much of the Center’s energy needs as possible through renewable resources. Doing so, says Director Chad Berry, is something he hopes will teach and inspire others.

“The Appalachian Center is dedicated to helping Berea College serve the Appalachian region primarily through education, and seeing the destructive effects of nationwide reliance upon fossil fuels to generate electricity, we feel compelled to model a policy committed to clean renewable energy,” says Berry.

Accompanying the installation in the center’s gallery is an exhibit created by the Artifacts and Exhibits Studio titled “Energy and Appalachia,” which teaches visitors about the relationships among energy use, lifestyle, resource extraction, and Appalachian communities. The exhibit includes a public monitoring device that indicates the periodic output of solar energy captured and used for varying time periods. It also relates the value of power produced by the system in terms of greenhouse gases avoided by the use of renewable energy.

Exhibit graphics explain how the system works: rooftop sensors monitor the air temperature, the solar cell temperature, and the amount of sunlight striking the panels; data loggers record how much electricity the panels produce, which is communicated to others through a Web site providing live access to system data anytime, anywhere.

The “powerful” connection the region has to America’s energy usage is also communicated in the exhibit. A map identifies the location of regional power plants and resource reserves. As the map shows, a variety of energy resources— coal, natural gas, and oil— are extracted from Appalachia’s mountains and valleys. Its once wild rivers have been tamed to generate hydroelectric power, particularly in southern Appalachia. And throughout the years, abundant coal reserves and good river access resulted in a concentration of coal-fired power plants being constructed in the region. Because of such historic abundance, states in the Appalachian region boast some of the nation’s lowest electricity rates: Kentucky’s, for example, is 60 percent of the national average. Consequently, people in Appalachia also have some of the country’s highest electric usage, a fact that further underscores the need to increase environmental awareness of energy use and to encourage more energy-efficient behavior.

The Appalachian Center solar panel project was funded in large part by a grant from the Anne Ray Charitable Trust.

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