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Seeing Green

The Cincinnati Park Board decided the best way to encourage people to become better stewards of the environment was to adopt a green piece of mind for the park system. And, it didn’t hurt that the mayor, Mark Mallory, announced a “Green Agenda” in the spring of 2006.

That year, the park’s series of Green Initiative Pilot Projects began transforming the parks into learning laboratories. Beyond supporting public education, one of the goals for the green initiatives was to assess the economic and environmental impacts of new sustainable energy implementation.

The park board had five regional and 70 neighborhood parks and 34 nature preserves to select from, and decided to begin with solar and wind energy at the headquarters located at Eden Park. “Eden Park is the flagship of our green initiatives,” says Julie Horne, chief business officer for the park board. “The solar panels were installed at the end of 2006 during the winter, and went operational in 2007.” The busy park is also home to the Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati Playhouse and the Krohn Conservatory.

Solar Energy

The solar panels were donated by Duke Energy, and the park board also received grants from the State of Ohio. The 10.8-kilowatt (kW) solar array consists of 90 120-watt Evergreen Solar photovoltaic panels, and was installed by ThirdSun Solar and Wind Power, a company based in nearby Athens, Ohio. The array can produce about 1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity a month.

The ground-mounted solar panels, located on the lawn near the headquarters, are visible and somewhat accessible to the public. The location was selected to provide maximum sun and minimal shade. The only barrier around the panels is a lattice-style fence under the array to prevent access. To make the array more attractive, the area is landscaped with shrubs and annuals. And--incredibly--there have been no problems with vandalism.

The array is connected to three converters needed to change the direct current to alternating current to provide electricity for the headquarters. The solar array provides about 12 percent of the power usage at park headquarters.

Sun And Wind Power

A residential-sized 10-kW wind generator, a Bergey WindPower Excel-S that’s been in production for over 25 years, was also installed on park grounds. The generator is located on a 120-foot tall tower to take advantage of the faster and more consistent winds.

But before the turbine was installed, the concerns of nearby neighbors were considered. “The people who live across the street were worried about the turbine being noisy or causing problems,” says Horne. “So, we selected an alternate location along the ridge.”

The solar array and wind generator are “utility grid-tied.” The power generated is delivered to the building, with any excess being fed to the utility grid. “When more electricity is produced than we use, the meter will actually go backward,” says Horne. Combined, the solar and wind power provide about 20 percent of the electricity used at the headquarters.

By connecting the building to the utility grid, the need for a bank of batteries to store the excess energy was eliminated. However, this also means that the system has no battery backup, and if a power outage occurs, the building is out of power and the solar- and wind-energy generators are automatically shut down for safety.

To Tour de Green Initiatives

Eden Park is the kickoff location for the Southwest Ohio Solar Tour, which takes a closer look at green-energy alternatives employed in the area. As part of the American Solar Energy Society’s National Solar Tour, the tours are coordinated by Green Energy Ohio--a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting environmentally and economically sustainable energy policies and practices.

“The solar array was installed as a demonstration project,” says Horne. “During a solar tour, we open up the project, and the participants can see the entire system including the panels, grids and converters.”

More Than Green Energy

Beyond tours and accessing the economical and environmental impacts of solar- and wind-power generation, the goal is to provide citizens with ideas about how they can help the environment. Located across the street from Eden Park is Brandimage - Degrippes & Laga, a brand and innovation firm. The employees often visit the park during lunchtime, and watched the installation of the solar array.

“We were inspired to become greener,” says Elizabeth Bolduc, supervisor of client services. “We felt it was important for us to change internally before we brought some of these ideas to our clients. Packaging is part of what we do here, and we want to reduce our carbon footprint as well as help our clients reduce theirs. We felt it was important for us to get our house in order versus green-washing.”

The simple changes included switching to cellulose-based cutlery; using coffee mugs rather than disposable cups, and filtered water rather than bottled; increasing recycling programs to capture paper, plastics and aluminum; setting computers to sleep when inactive during the day; and turning off office equipment and lights at the end of the day. These simple power-saving steps have resulted in a 6-percent reduction in the utility bill.

“They are partnering with us with new innovations to identify green projects,” says Horne. And, on Arbor Day, Brandimage - Degrippes & Laga employees went to work planting trees along Gilbert Avenue, adjacent to Eden Park.

A Bank Full Of Initiatives

“We’ve added a rain garden, new solar-powered LED sign, and BigBelly solar trash cans, which use solar energy to power the internal trash compactor,” says Horne. “We are also renovating the Seasongood Pavilion, and are replacing pavement with porous concrete to reduce the amount and velocity of stormwater runoff.”

Cincinnati Parks also has added a second set of solar panels at the operational headquarters off Reading Road. Coming soon to Eden Park is a solar-powered work cart (think solar-powered golf cart). Then, there is the Green Lecture Series, which is free to the public, but is so popular people must pre-register for a seat.

“We are also building green features into the new Cincinnati RiverFront Park, on the banks of the Ohio River,” says Horne. “The 45-acre park will have woods, wetlands, meadows and trails, and will include a green roof on top of the parking garage. A geothermal system will be installed to minimize energy needs for heating and cooling the park maintenance building, located at the garage.”

Is Green The New Black?

It seems green is the new black as green initiatives slash utility expenses, and decrease carbon footprints. Parks are often the leaders in making the environment cleaner and healthier to live in. Can your park be a leader for the business and residential community to follow? What green initiatives can your facility accomplish? Are there companies in the area that you can partner with to increase awareness of your green initiatives and the success of your program?

By asking these questions, you’ll be on the way to transforming your park into a learning lab for people to better understand how they, too, can be good stewards of the environment.

Tammy York is the owner of LandShark Communications LLC, which specializes in media and public relations for recreation businesses. Her book, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Cincinnati, can be ordered through Amazon.com. You can reach her at landsharkpr@yahoo.com.

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