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The Governor’s Residence Goes Solar



The meeting between Ohio Gov. Bob Taft’s wife and a green energy advocate in 2003 was a chance encounter. Their discussion, however, would propel Ohio into the renewable energy spotlight with the installation of a solar electricity-generating system at the governor’s historic residence. Two years later, the photovoltaic (PV) system functions as a supplemental electricity source and primary security backup in the event of a blackout.

Green Energy Ohio’s (GEO’s) Bill Spratley was at the Ohio State Fair in the summer of 2003 helping with a Habitat for Humanity house being built at the Columbus fairgrounds during the 15-day event. Hope Taft, wife of Gov. Bob Taft, also was working on the Habitat house. Sometime between the swinging of hammers and the sawing of timber, Bill and Hope got talking about some common interests, including renewable electricity.

“We were discussing alternatives to coal and nuclear power plants,” recalls Spratley, executive director of the nonprofit GEO, a leading advocate for cleaner sources of electricity and the Ohio chapter of the American Solar Energy Society. “Somewhere in the conversation, Mrs. Taft asked if it would be feasible — I believe she said ‘practical’— to apply solar electricity to a part of the Ohio governor’s residence.”

Intrigued by the promise of diversifying Ohio’s fuel mix with clean energy alternatives, Mrs. Taft inquired about GEO’s willingness to install solar panels at the governor’s residence as a public demonstration of solar energy and a backup generation system.

Spratley’s reaction was confident: “When can we start?”

Less than 24 hours later, GEO had secured the donation of 60 50-watt solar panels from First Solar, a provider of thin-film solar modules with a manufacturing plant near Toledo. Using this significant contribution as leverage, GEO assembled the “GEO Green Team,” featuring Ohio clean energy businesses and volunteers who would complete this first-of-its-kind project.


The historic “carriage house” behind the governor’s residence in Columbus was chosen as the ideal location for the solar array. Its slate roof has a southern exposure and can be seen by the 20,000 visitors who tour the residence and surrounding gardens each year.

Once final funding was secured, the GEO board of directors approved the project plan and assumed ownership of the array in December 2003.

GEO was awarded a $45,000 grant for equipment and education expenses by Ohio’s Department of Development – Office of Energy Efficiency through its Energy Loan Grant Program. Similar grants are available to Ohioans in the territories of investorowned utilities that are developing renewable energy projects. This financial incentive provides matching grants or rebates for qualifying commercial and residential wind, solar electric and solar thermal installations. With the money in hand, GEO completed the 3.2-kilowatt PV installation last September — a little more than a year after Spratley’s state fair conversation with Hope Taft.

In addition to First Solar, the Columbus-based Durable Slate Co. assisted in mounting the solar panels on the slate roof by drilling holes in each tile. Inverter manufacturer Vanner Inc., based near Columbus, provided the DC-to-AC power-conversion equipment. The Athens-based architectural firm of Panich + Noel Architects handled the designs and permits, and Columbus law firm Hahn Loeser + Parks LLP provided legal advice.

A power center for the electrical equipment and batteries, along with educational signage, was designed by Columbusbased Energy Designs Inc. and integrated into the beautiful landscape of the residence.

The complex installation was completed by five Ohio PV installers, all certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners: John Witte and Mark Tuttle, Advanced Distributed Generation LLC in Maumee; Matt Bennett, Dovetail Solar & Wind in Glouster; Geoff Greenfield, Third Sun Solar and Wind Power Ltd. in Athens; and Erika Weliczko, REpower SOLUTIONS in Cleveland. Displaying the ingenuity and pioneering spirit of Ohioans, GEO volunteers Laura Bush, Tim Dunning, Scotte Elliott, James Groeber, Greg Kuss and Craig Miller contributed much time and energy to the project. Retired engineer and volunteer Ed Chadwick led the GEO volunteer team.


To enhance the performance and educational value of the PV system, GEO engaged Fat Spaniel Technologies, San Jose, Calif., to provide a real-time monitoring system to track the array’s electricity generation. Data is uploaded every 10 minutes to the Internet portal located on the GEO website at www.greenenergyohio.org/govres.

Users can examine AC output on a daily, weekly or annual basis. Although the PV system performs during blackout conditions, the AC output displayed by the monitoring equipment is zero, as backup power is focused on supplying critical loads and battery recharging. The monitoring webpage also reveals the greenhouse gases avoided by using solar energy and the ambient temperatures in which the system operates.

With the addition of the energy-monitoring system, the PV installation at the governor’s residence achieved its two goals: (1) to demonstrate the viability of renewable energy in tandem with conventional energy sources, and (2) to educate visitors about PV systems, including their roles as distributed-power generation and in conserving natural resources, and the involvement of Ohio manufacturers in renewable energy.


The rooftop PV system at the three-story Jacobean revival residence is the perfect merging of history and modern science. The system complements the goal of making the governor’s residence a showplace of Ohio’s history, art, industry and plant life, highlighting the innovative Ohioans who are pioneering advances in solar energy. At the same time, it demonstrates that solar power is a viable means to generate electricity while conserving natural resources.

Statewide reaction has been enthusiastic. The project also is gaining fame nationwide, according to Hope Taft.

“The American Institute of Architects has recognized our project with its ‘High-Performance Design for Ohio’ Award in 2005,” says Taft. “We are delighted to have solar panels as our backup energy source.”

This response may be just the beginning, however. Taft adds, “Several other governors’ residences are following our example.”

Carriage House System
Governor’s Residence, Columbus, Ohio
  • 3.2-kilowatt photovoltaic system donated and installed by a “Green Team” of Ohio businesses, solar professionals and GEO volunteers
  • 64 50-watt solar panels donated by First Solar
  • 4,500-watt inverter donated by Vanner Inc.
  • Power center designed by Energy Designs houses four OutBack Power MX60 charge controllers, OutBack PSDC unit, and 24-volt battery system (four 6-volt cell stacks, in series, for 1,820 amp-hours at c/20 rate)
  • Fat Spaniel Technologies’ model PV2web energy-monitoring system displays performance data online
  • Funded through a $45,000 grant from Ohio’s Department of Development’s Office of Energy Efficiency
  • Online September 2004
  • View the live Solar Monitoring System for the Carriage House Solar Panels

Christina Panoska is program manager at Green Energy Ohio. For more information about GEO’s efforts to promote sustainable energy policies and practices in Ohio, access www.greenenergyohio.org, or contact Panoska at christina@greenenergyohio.org.

Ohio Governor’s Residence and Heritage Garden
358 North Parkview Ave., Columbus, Ohio 43209
Phone: 614-644-7644 Fax: 614-252-7076