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OHIO granted $1.5 million for compost expansion and new solar array

Ohio University has been awarded $1.5 million toward energy efficiency projects through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The university was granted $1,088,571 to double its current compost initiative through the purchase of a new composting unit, a 1.4 gallon solar thermal and a 31.1 kilowatt solar electric system and waste-oil burners. An additional $432,000 grant will be used to install a 61.1 kilowatt solar electric system at Lausche Heating Plant.

OHIO was among 14 in-state recipients, including thirteen institutions of higher education, to receive $10.7 million in grant awards funded through the ARRA's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant: Local Governments and State Energy Program.

"These projects reinforce Ohio's commitment to energy efficiency," Ohio Governor Ted Strickland said. "The awards…strengthen all sectors of Ohio's economy to create jobs and lay a foundation for Ohio to lead the nation in the efficient use of electricity."

The expansion of OHIO's compost facilities will yield a 200 percent increase in organics recycling at Ohio University, according to Director of Sustainability Sonia Marcus.

OHIO's current in-vessel composting unit is the largest in-vessel composting system at any college or university in the nation. Marcus said the new unit will be twice its size, capable of accepting four tons of waste per day.

The facility will generate 100 percent of its energy needs through the on-site solar arrays. The increased capacity will potentially enable the acceptance of Athens city organic waste, in addition to organic campus waste, said Marcus.

The 61.1 kilowatt solar photovoltaic array will be six times the size of Ohio University's largest current array, according to Marcus. The array will feed electricity to the university grid from a most ironic location:  Lausche Heating Plant, a coal-fired plant which currently supplies heat to all university buildings.  

Marcus said the site was chosen because it could accommodate a large-scale array without posing an additional footprint to the landscape. Though the exact location of the array has not been determined, university officials are exploring the roof of Lausche's coal shed, due to its giant dimensions and favorable direction, said Marcus.  

When applying for the grant money, Marcus said the university intentionally pursued improbable, high-profile sustainability initiatives.

"We figured if they’re giving this money away and want to see projects that would not have happened otherwise, we’ll give them a couple of projects that absolutely depend on stimulus funding," she said.

Proposals were accepted beginning Dec. 2, 2009, in response to a Request for Proposal. The projects were selected through a competitive review process based on several criteria to fulfill program objectives: project readiness to ensure completion by July 20, 2012; reduction in energy usage and fossil fuel emissions; and direct economic impact in Ohio to create and retain jobs.

Institutions had 30 days from the announcement of the grant to the day the proposal was due. Marcus credits the interdisciplinary collaboration of more than 40 individuals across the Ohio University campus for the proposal's timeliness and its ultimate success.

"It absolutely cuts across all the different sectors of the university from facilities to academics to administration, all the way up the hierarchy," said Marcus. "What other projects do that to such a great extent? It’s just an expression of the community's will and effort."

These awards are part of the total $25 million allocated to the State of Ohio through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program, which has $8.2 million for institutions of higher education and state government. Another $2.5 million is provided through Ohio's State Energy Program in support of these projects.

"The exciting element of these projects is that they will be seen in action by thousands of students and hundreds of thousands of travelers; they will be real life demonstrations that energy efficiency and renewable energy work," said Mark Shanahan, Energy Advisor to Governor Strickland.

For more information about the project details, please visit