Solar panels were recently installed on the roof of the Rhoads family's barn at their farm on state Route 124. (Photo courtesy of Rich Rhoads)
Solar panels were recently installed on the roof of the Rhoads family's barn at their farm on state Route 124. (Photo courtesy of Rich Rhoads)
Highland County is home to several large-scale solar energy projects in various stages of development, all of which have garnered state and local attention in recent years. However, renewable energy continues to pique the interest of consumers of all kinds, including individuals in the Highland County area.

One such consumer is Rich Rhoads, whose family has owned a farm on state Route 124, east of Hillsboro, for three decades. After conducting research and weighing the pros and cons, his family recently installed solar panels to offset the power used on their property.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “In 2019, solar photovoltaic (PV) generation accounted for about one-tenth of Ohio’s renewable generation. Slightly more than half of that solar power came from small-scale, customer-sited generating systems, mostly rooftop solar panels.”

That is exactly what the Rhoads family has done, with solar panels installed on their barn’s roof. Rhoads said he hoped that the switch to renewable energy will both benefit the environment and help his family save money.

Rhoads said that they have been discussing switching to a solar power system for several months, after Rhoads had been reading about solar energy for years. In researching their options, they were told that they weren’t close enough to a high-voltage power line to be connect to a larger solar grid.

Undeterred, the Rhoads family then worked with their power company to find a different option.

“They came and talked to us and said every year, on average, a person’s electric bill goes up about eight percent,” Rhoads said. “If you look at that and how the country is trying to get away from fossil fuels and that sort of thing, the push is going to be solar and wind.”

As discussed in a previous Highland County Press article, Highland County is considered a favorable area for solar energy, but wind-powered facilities fare better in northern Ohio, closer to Lake Erie. Rhoads said he spoke with a local property owner who tried to implement a wind energy source on their land and was “very disappointed” with the results.

Rhoads said he had thought about trying to set up the solar panels himself on a smaller scale, but as he pointed out, he didn’t want to “blow up the electric system” on their property.

“I’d been looking at solar for a long time,” Rhoads said. “It was really hard to find somebody who even knew about it. None of the local electricians had any information on it and couldn’t even tell me really how many panels I would need to produce enough energy.

“My brother tracked down a company that could help save us some money and help the environment.”

The Rhoads family found a company that works directly with residential properties and farms in order to set up the solar panels on their farm.

“They’re financing it for 20 years, and after 20 years, the electricity is free at that point,” Rhoads said. “The warranty on the solar system is for 35 years, so the last 15 years should be worry-free.”

Rhoads said switching to solar energy was a fairly simple process, although there were several steps they needed to take.

“They insulate your attic,” he said. “They put solar fans in your attic. They wrap your water heater. They give you LED light bulbs to replace your bulbs, to use less electricity that way.

“It’s kind of an overall package to make it more energy-efficient as well as giving you an opportunity to create some of your own power.”

Rhoads added that the company is also able to use Wi-Fi to monitor the panels to ensure they are producing energy at the proper levels.

The company the Rhoads family worked with also installed the panels on the roof of their barn, added outside control inverters and worked with the power company to switch their metering system.

Rhoads said it was a “quick and seamless” process, as the company measured their property and assessed their electric bill, then came up with a personalized plan for their property.

“The person who took the measurements sent all the information to some engineers,” Rhoads said. “That same night, they calculated how many panels we would need and did a satellite image of the barn, which indicated it was due south facing, therefore it was ideal for solar panels.”

The Rhoads family also gave their input, including changing the original plan to adjust the power line’s location.

“It was really very quick and seamless,” Rhoads said. “It’s one of those things that if you don’t know what to expect, you feel kind of leery at first. They wrapped it up pretty quick.”

The solar array recently installed on the Rhoadses’ property includes 60 panels on top of the roof. According to Rhoads, they determined the number of panels for the amount of power they need based on three hours of sunlight per day.

“Because people tend to have trees, usually their panels aren’t facing due south because of the roof line not lining up directly south,” Rhoads said. “It just so happened ours, when they did the satellite overview of it, they said it’s pretty much as due south as you could get it to be.

“We’ll probably end up generating more power than we anticipated because there are no trees around, no obstruction and we’re facing due south, but we’ll see how it all goes.”

Through their regular electricity provider, Rhoads said the family was averaging approximately $500 per month in electricity bills, as the property includes two houses and a barn. The cost of financing the panels is comparable to what they were paying each month for energy. He added that he hopes the new reverse metering system saves them money as well.

“If you produce more than what you’re using, it turns the meter backward, and whenever you need power, you’re still on the grid, so it turns the other way and you start buying power,” Rhoads said. “At the end, if you produced more than you’ve used, the electric company writes you a check.”

Rhoads said he wanted to share his family’s story in case other property owners are interested in pursuing solar energy on a smaller scale than the solar farm projects that typically get attention.

“We read a lot about the solar farms, but there are opportunities for individuals that don’t have the setup where they’re on a major grid to hook up to those,” Rhoads said.

For those who are concerned about the aesthetics of the panels, Rhoads said he feels the panels on the roof are hardly noticeable since “the roof is not very high pitched.”

“It’s not a monstrosity that you have to really pay attention to,” Rhoads said.

Rhoads also pointed out that the federal government offers a tax credit for homeowners switching to solar energy, to help offset some of the costs. According to the Internal Revenue Service, the credit is 26 percent through the end of 2020 and 22 percent in 2021.

“It makes it a little more affordable for people,” he said.

Between helping the environment and having the opportunity to potentially save money in the long term, Rhoads said they believe it’s a “win-win” for their farm.

“More people need to know about it,” Rhoads said. “The more properties that get on and produce solar energy, the fewer emissions there are in the air, and people can save some money. The cost of power keeps going up eight percent a year, so it won’t take long before you’ve doubled the cost of your power.”