Millvale has sustainability on its mind and a goal to eventually become “a self-reliant urban solar village,” said Zaheen Hussain, Millvale’s Sustainability Coordinator.
The community has adopted the goal of slowly incorporating its solar ambitions into its daily routine, starting with the Millvale Community Library.
The library, which is in the heart of the community, was the first to jump onboard and be the frontrunner for reducing the community’s carbon footprint by becoming fully solar operated. Hussain said the library no longer pays utility bills, and when the “bill” comes, it actually looks more like a check because of how much solar energy the library produces.
By saving money, the library is able to hire and pay staff members fulltime wages, which in turn provides more resources for community members.
Hussain said there is a skepticism that surrounds solar energy in the region, because the weather tends to air on the cloudy side, but residents who stop by the library can witness solar energy being harnessed in real time. There is a kiosk in the library that shows how much solar power the building is absorbing and using on a daily basis.
The library also helps residents get access to solar service providers and trustworthy organizations when is comes to solar installations. Millvale enhanced this concept by creating the Solar Ambassador program, where community members selected an ambassador to expand solar knowledge within Millvale and ensure that it is part of the community planning process. Millvale was also an inaugural partner in the Solarize Allegheny Program. As stated on their website, “Solarize Allegheny is a project funded by the Heinz Endowments and managed by non-profit SmartPower – to double the amount of solar energy throughout Allegheny County.”
Millvale resident Mandy Wolovich was the first Solar Ambassador for the program and the contact point for anything solar related in the neighborhood. Wolovich said she was part of assessing the solar output and necessities needed to turn the library 100 percent solar.
“The Millvale Community Library has been the hub and launch point for our solar initiatives, as well as other sustainability concepts that are becoming a reality in Millvale,” Wolovich said.
Wolovich’s own home is solar powered, which makes her a solid contact point and she is able to give other residents down-to-earth information on how and why to go solar.
“Years ago, you would hear people having conversations saying that solar isn’t a viable energy source,” Hussain said. “Now we are at the point where we are having educated conversations about it.”
Solar panels are still too pricey for some residents, but what matters is that the conversations are getting started and residents are talking about saving for future solar panels to power their homes.
Hussain said the adoption of solar power can keep Millvale resilient against natural disasters or energy blackouts, and has become even more of a valuable asset to the community. The building next to the library is also solarized now, and over the summer there were panels installed at the Millvale Community Center.
“We want to become self-reliant and independent, but also over time want to decrease our carbon footprint and improve our air quality,” Hussain said.
The Allegheny Solar Co-operative was created because of these diligent solarization efforts. Hussain said the co-op is the first of its kind in southwestern Pennsylvania, and it “seeks to democratize access to solar ownership and is an inclusive approach to solar ownership where we can provide benefits to those who are unable to install solar energy on their existing residencies or businesses.”
More information will be available on the co-op and how to get involved within the coming months.
Special thanks to The Henry L. Hillman Foundation, Neighborhood Allies, Green Mountain Energy, evolveEA, The Heinz Endowments, Solarize Allegheny, and The Borough of Millvale for their support on this initiative.