Beside the Westminster General Aviation Airport, a veterinary practice has created a unique clean-energy installation.

Motivated to ease or eliminate their hefty electricity bills, owners of the Airpark Animal Hospital began exploring options to install a solar photo-voltaic system. Veterinary medicine and surgery, cat and dog care, in-house pharmacy operations, a paperless back office and extensive boarding within the 20,000-square-foot facility consumed large amounts of energy and saddled the owners with electricity bills that could exceed $2,700 a month.

Determining what type of solar system could meet the hospital’s energy needs and financial goals “required a tremendous amount of education,” said Julie Wire, practice manager.

Wire spent about six months talking to solar installers, learning the intricacies of solar power systems, and determining what type of system would best suit her unique facility. The building’s 18-year-old, flat roof was dotted with air conditioning units and vents, and consequently didn’t present an ideal location for a solar array. Furthermore, the veterinary hospital’s proximity to an airport imposed an additional design consideration: The panels could not create any reflective glare that would interfere with pilots’ vision on take-off or landing. And there was the question of cost. The hospital’s owners wanted to own the system, keep their monthly financing payments low, and generate enough electricity to repay the cost of the system in less than five years.

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Meeting those financial goals “was the easiest part of the whole process,” Wire said. “The bank was very supportive and even researched the grants. Our accountant researched the tax credits.”

And the chosen solar contractor – Earth and Air Technologies of Carroll County – designed a system that should pay for itself in well under five years.

The tailor-made, 130-kilowatt system includes 396 solar panels erected onto a nine-foot-high solar canopy over the hospital’s dog-walking area. Designed to meet at least 85 percent of the hospital’s electricity needs, the canopy is also producing side benefits for the veterinary practice.

Boarded dogs can run and play outside without getting wet “and my staff doesn’t get wet either,” Wire said.

Plans to rim the canopied area with ornamental grasses and install picnic tables will also provide clients with attractive waiting areas and staff with outdoor break areas, Wire said.

Dog with panelsBelieved to be the largest solar installation at a Maryland veterinary hospital to date, Airpark Animal Hospital’s solar project is spurring interest within the industry. Wire has already been contacted by two other veterinary hospitals, seeking advice on how to best manage their own solar installations.

This story was orginally published by Maryland Clean Energy.

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