Fire breaks out in solar array field at Blackburn College

Fire breaks out in solar array field at

By: JORDAN GRUCZA

Enquirer Democrat Reporter

A fire broke out in the solar array at Blackburn College at approximately noon Saturday, Oct. 19, leaving many students wondering about the cause and near future of the solar project.

According to Steve Morris, Vice President of Administration and Finance at Blackburn College, the fire was located in four of the combiner boxes, which are located at the ends of several of the rows in the array.

“Each one of the combiner boxes tie back to the inverters,” Morris said. “A combiner box takes a string of solar panels and connects them all in a series to go back to the main panel. They’re kind of like junction boxes. There are twelve combiner boxes and all told there was damage to four of them.

“Two inverter panels were also damaged, as well as some underground wiring which melted because of the fire,” Morris said.

At this time, the cause of the fire is still unknown, but Morris stated that the damage is expected to be repaired by the end of November.

“We do know that one of the combining  boxes is where the bulk of the fire was contained,” Morris said. “How much of that led to damage to other areas they’re still looking into.”

The project installer, IL Solar of Litchfield, is presently repairing the damage. They are working with the manufacturer of the combiner boxes, Selectria, to determine the cause of the fire.

Morris was also quick to point out that rumors among students that the solar project only being utilized for five years are strictly false.

“This system is rated to last 25 years-plus,” Morris said. “We’re planning on it lasting a long, long time.”

Morris also addressed rumors that the solar panel wouldn’t be profitable until year 10.

“There are two major components for where we end up with cash flow from the array,” Morris said. “The first one is the solar renewable energy credits, or SRECs. The second are the energy savings. Between those two, basically we plan on having an average cost savings per year of $125,000 over the life of the system.

“The savings are greater years one through five because of the SRECs we’re receiving.

“From our standpoint, it’s cash-flow positive from year one,” Morris said. “Right from the time we turn it on.”