Beaver County is winning awards for its investment in solar energy.
The Pennsylvania Solar Center presented its Lodestar Awards on Thursday with four awards going to local businesses and organizations in Beaver County.
The Solar Center, a project funded by nonprofit New Sun Rising, helps nonprofits and businesses go solar. The center’s Lodestar Awards praise organizations that are doing just that.
“This award ceremony recognizes those who are providing that inspirational leadership of Pennsylvania based-organizations and businesses that are demonstrating the way to the new solar energy economy,” said Sharon Pillar, founder and executive director of the Pennsylvania Solar Center.
The group chose the word “lodestar” as its awards title, as the term has historically been referenced to a star used in navigation, Pillar said.
“Helping people get from one place to another,” she said. “We really feel like you (the award winners) are the lodestar, leading the way to this clean energy economy and this clean energy world.”
This year’s awards were given to organizations and businesses in Beaver and Washington counties.
Beaver County business leaders Eaton and Acutran were awarded Lodestar Awards for Business Leadership.
Eaton’s Vanport Township-based manufacturing plant employs 368 residents that create electrical infrastructure. The plant provides electrical equipment that goes into solar projects throughout the country, including in its Vanport location. The site creates circuit breakers that go into various projects, including solar projects.
The Beaver facility has a 1.3-megawatt solar array onsite. The plant’s employees create circuit breakers that connect solar arrays — essentially a collection of solar panels that generate energy — to the building.
“We’re offsetting roughly around 15 to 20% of our electrical usage at the Beaver plant from the solar array that we have installed there over the course of a year, so it helps us reduce our electrical usage from the grid and also helps us meet our sustainability goals as well,” said John Vernacchia, energy transition segment director for Eaton. “We’re happy to be a part of the solar story here in western Pennsylvania.”
Marion Township-based Acutran manufactures custom transformers. The company largely created transformers for the mining industry back in the ’80s, but over the last several years has converted to solar, wind and hydro. Acutran creates Zig-Zag transformers, which are often used by utility companies and are attached to renewable load generators, like solar and wind.
Currently, the Marion factory runs approximately 300,000 kilowatts of solar energy, which covers about 25% of its energy needs, according to Mike Evans, Acutran general manager.
“It’s not only great for the environment but obviously it helps offset the cost of rising electric,” he said.
New Sewickley Township farmer Don Kretschmann, owner of Kretschmann Organic Farm, received a Lodestar Award for being a leader in agrivoltaics, which is a combination of agriculture and solar electricity where farmland can be used for both farming purposes and solar energy generation at the same time.
Don Kretschmann and his wife, Becky, have been growing organic fruit and vegetables for 50 years in western Pennsylvania. In 2011, the couple installed a 27-kilowatt solar array which provides nearly all the power for their farm, greenhouses and home.
Within five years of purchasing the solar array, it paid for itself, Don Kretschmann said.
“I guess it goes without saying that all good farms definitely are solar,” he said. “Solar is definitely the way to go. For our farm business, installing a solar array was just about the definition of a no-brainer.”
The Felician Sisters of North America also received a Lodestar Award for their North Sewickley Township location, which has gone solar. The Felician Sisters have put together a two-megawatt project on six sites in five states, according to Sister Mary Jean Sliwinski, the Felician Sisters provincial sustainability coordinator.
The North Sewickley solar array was created in 2016 and includes 1,178 panels and a 365-kilowatt system, which powers roughly 85% of the building’s energy needs.
“So we’ve avoided putting about 973 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But we also have another array in Allegheny County in Coraopolis — there’s 1,700 panels there. So all told our total emissions we have avoided in the state of Pennsylvania is about 2,400 tons,” Sliwinski said. “We’re quite proud of that.”
Nationwide, the Felician Sisters have kept 5,500 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, she added.
“For us, it really wasn’t about cost savings. As Franciscans and women-religious, we’re really taking seriously our calls to be stewards and caretakers of the earth,” Sliwinski said. “As Franciscans and followers of Saint Francis, he really believed that all things were in relationship and he referred to the created world as brother and sister, and especially Sister Mother Earth. So for us, morally, installing solar panels was the right thing to do.
“And beyond that, we felt that if we had solar panels on our properties and visible, we could use them as tools to educate others about the need to move to renewable energy and about the need to change some of our behaviors so we could help preserve the earth for future generations,” she said.