WHEATFIELD — Jasper County REMC and solar professionals met with county first responders to discuss proper safety procedures and explain how the solar panels work to give them an understanding of the electric generating station built on Kankakee Valley School Corp. land.
The solar array will soon be attached to the electrical grid, sending power to two REMC substations near the field. The solar field is being erected on ground owned by the Kankakee Valley School Corporation, near the intermediate and middle schools.
Mike Robinson, owner of Bee Solar, which installed the solar panels, told firefighters from Wheatfield and Keener the panels weigh 54 lbs. each and there are approximately 13,000 panels in the field. The posts holding the panels go between 8 and 9 feet into the ground and the panels are built to withstand winds up to 80 mph. They hold 800 amps of electricity and are DC voltage producing about480 volts of electricity, which goes to a transformer that turns that power into AC at about 12,470 volts that go out into the power grid. These panels are set at a fixed 30° angle facing east-west. When the sun sets, the panels will flatten then rise to the 30° angle as the sun rises.
Jim Shaw, owner of Solectria Solar, said, “It’s a power plant.” The firefighters were told to treat it as they would any power plant or substation. If it’s on fire, they recommend that they let it burn because it will eventually go out on its own. The firefighters’ job would be containment rather than extinquishing a fire. Even if the panels are no longer producing electricity, there is still some power left in them, and all first responders should assume they’re live and capable of electrocution.
When the solar field is active, signs will be posted all around the field, which is surrounded by chain link fence topped by barbed wire, with “High Voltage” warnings to deter anyone who may want to vandalize the panels.
In the spring, the field under the solar array will be planted with wildfowers. “This will be a pollinator field,” Shaw explained. The plants will be a variety that doesn’t grow tall enough to cover the solar cells. At the end of the growing season, the plants will be mowed, ready for winter.
The firefighters were told to follow the protocols already in place for fire at a substation and were invited to a training by REMC on Oct. 22, that will demonstrate the power of electricity and what it can do if handled incorrectly.
“Don’t be a grounding rod,” they said.
The power generated belongs to Wabash Valley Power, which is building the solar field. There was no capital outlay from the school corporation, but the corporation will benefit with credits for the power it uses.
Jasper County Sheriff Pat Williamson and Chief Jason Wallace attended the training along with DeMotte Asst. Chief Steve Musch. Shaw explained the field is monitored by video cameras. The operation reports every three minutes to a central system that monitors the equipment. If something happens, the company will be aware quickly and will call Jasper County dispatch if they discover an emergency with their solar array.