Emily Oaks Nature Center has always been the flagship facility for the Skokie Park District’s numerous green initiatives. Now the facility itself will live up to three decades of work by the district’s staff Environmental Action Team.
On March 11, Windfree Solar completed the installation of 44 solar panels on the roof of the center. By day these panels absorb available sunlight that is converted into usable electricity, providing power for appliances, office equipment, and HVAC fans and blowers. If the solar panels generate more power than the building can use, the excess energy is routed back to the grid and credited to Emily Oaks. At night or on cloudy days, the electrical needs of the nature center continue to be supplemented by ComEd. In addition to the solar panels, a web-based monitoring program was installed, providing information on the output and operational effectiveness of the system.
“In January 2020, the district applied for a solar grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation,” said Superintendent of Parks Corrie Guynn. “The district was then awarded a $23,955 grant, helping to offset the total project cost of $42,334. The grant includes funds for educational signage and for exploring various educational opportunities.”
“In addition to our own money savings, soaking up sunlight energy to keep the refrigerators humming and heaters blowing lessens the Skokie Park District’s dependence on fossil fuels and non-renewable energy sources,” said Emily Oaks Nature Center Manager Lee Hansen. “For instance, the amount of clean energy produced in a year by the solar system at Emily Oaks results in an environmental benefit equivalent to taking three passenger cars off the road for a year or driving 35,756 fewer miles, thereby radically reducing carbon dioxide emissions.”
The average annual cost savings to Emily Oaks Nature Center via the solar panel system is expected to be approximately $1,300. This will be equal to about 21% of the building’s annual electrical costs, however the larger benefit and impact will be for the planet.
“By harnessing the power of the sun at Emily Oaks Nature Center, the Skokie Park District is now a big player in reducing pollution and making a positive environmental impact in Skokie,” said Hansen.
Solar panel projects are also planned for the district’s Weber Leisure Center and its Park Services Center.