Residents of a Florida continuing care retirement community saw their drive for sustainable energy become a reality with the recent installation of solar panels on the community’s roof.
Oak Hammock at the University of Florida in Gainesville is funding the $603,000 project, which will install 682 solar panels at the community. The CCRC is thought to be the only one in the state to invest in solar panel energy. The panels are expected to generate $50,000 in annual savings on the community’s $1 million electric bill.
Planning began four years ago when a group of residents led by the late Lee Bidgood, a former chemical engineer, created a committee to research the feasibility of solar power at the community. Committee members analyzed 12 months of billing data and collected information from the Florida Department of Energy and the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa. They presented their proposal to the Oak Hammock Board of Directors Finance Committee in October 2019.
“When I pitched the project to the Oak Hammock board, I started by saying that this was a good investment, it’s the right time to do this, it’s a powerful marketing tool and, finally, it’s the right thing to do,” said Bill Rossi, one of the residents who led the project.
Nelson Logan, another resident and former engineer on the project, was so passionate about it that he offered to put up his own money and solicit donations.
“In today’s society, where everyone is talking about how we have to have sustainable energy, we really have to face up to the fact that the weather on this planet is changing,” Rossi said. “We are doing something about it. We can do our part.”
The board approved the solar project in February 2020. Oak Hammock Chief Financial Officer Andrew Davey and then-CEO Jeff Hagan selected Gainesville-based Solar Impact to install the panels.
After a new roof was installed on the community’s Building 2 in May, Solar Impact took roof measurements to lay out the solar array, which holds the panels in place. Two weeks later, more than 300 footings were placed on top of the roof, followed by the rails where the solar panels sit. July 1, 13 pallets of panels were lifted onto the roof. Solar Impact then completed the wire management installation.
Solar panels will be installed on the communities two largest buildings — Buildings 1 and 2. The first solar array, which houses 24 of the 682 solar panels, was installed on Building 2 during a ceremony on July 20. Installation should be completed this month, according to Oak Hammock.
“Our solar panel design will generate about 5% of our electrical consumption,” said resident John Paul, a UF engineering alumnus. “That doesn’t sound like much, except our electric bill is about $1 million a year, and with the tariffs continuing to go up, so will our bill. That’s a savings of about $50,000 a year, and that will escalate over time.”
With the life of a solar panel at between 25 and 30 years, Paul said, the solar panels will pay for themselves and reduce Oak Hammock’s electrical bill “all while doing the right thing.”
“It was the residents who explored sustainable energy at Oak Hammock, and that speaks to the community we have,” Paul said. “To us, Oak Hammock is a community.”