PITTSBURGH (KDKA)-- When most people think about solar energy, they assume it is limited to the sunny south. Few understand that it will work in Pennsylvania where we don't have as many sunny days -- and a project along the banks of the Mon River is trying to change the public perception.
The installation of thousands of solar panels at Mill 19 at the Hazelwood Green project started about ten days ago. When they are finished next year, the entire roof will be covered. It is going to be gigantic because the old steel mill is about a third of a mile long.
"This is a demonstration of what's possible," says Don Smith. He is President of R-I-D-C, the Regional Industrial Development Corporation. He hopes the project will shot "how you can use the new technologies and how new buildings on an old site can really blend into the future of Pittsburgh."
The Hazelwood Green property is so large that three big buildings are being built inside what once was a massive steel mill. The solar panels are being installed right on top of the original steel skeleton that once was the roof.
Amazingly, the original steel plant was almost ideal for this installation.
"We are very fortunate that the existing mill structure had almost a perfect orientation for solar, so it's very well suited for this application and we'll also end up having we believe the largest rooftop solar installation in all of Pennsylvania," says Smith.
There are other large solar panel farms, but most are owned by utility companies and are ground-based.
As for the installation, the small solar panels (each one is about six feet long and three feet wide) are individually fabricated. They then are attached to rails in three-by-three arrangements. That larger singular unit is then hoisted more than seven stories into the sky for permanent installation on the roof.
Even though Pennsylvania sees a heavy dose of cloudy and overcast days -- especially in winter months -- Smith says they still can harness the power of the sun. "It's still sending UV rays. It's still able to generate power -- not as much as say Arizona -- but we believe that it still will produce power at a market or lower rate even here in Pittsburgh."
Installation is expected to continue into next year. When it is all done and connected, the solar panels should produce enough electricity to power two of the three buildings at Mill 19 -- and will hopefully pay for themselves in about 15 to 20 years.
Smith says that is the goal. "To build that sustainable future but also to power all the growth we want to see here on site. We are looking for some very dense development. We are looking at a lot of jobs, of high-quality jobs and new residents and really helping to transform Hazelwood back into the great place that it was."
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