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Energy initiatives at the Toledo Museum of Art

June 30, 2013

TMA Rooftop

The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) has engaged in extensive efforts to reduce energy usage at their facility for the last 20 years. The initiatives include energy efficient lighting, energy efficient motors and control systems on mechanical system fans and pumps, natural gas micro-turbines in their power plants, and a three phase implementation of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to generate electricity. The lighting, power control, and micro-turbine initiatives may have substantial merit; however, the solar panels probably required the most investment, were supported significantly with taxpayer money, and generated the most public interest and awareness. As such, the solar panels deserve some scrutiny.

The TMA solar panel project commenced with phase 1 in 2008, including the installation of a 101 KW system of PV panels on the rooftop. In 2010, phase 2 introduced additional PV panels on the rooftop, capable of 101 more KW.  Phase 3, in 2012, involved a 340 KW system of PV panels built on a canopy installation in the parking area; and it commenced operation 6 months ago, at the beginning of 2013.

Details regarding the project at TMA can be found in a recent article in the Toledo Blade. Additional information can be obtained from the Ohio Department of Development in an update report attached TMA State Update; and also directly from various posts on the TMA website. Some additional publicly available information (below) was obtained directly from the TMA Communication Dept.


Phase 1 2008 Rooftop Panels:

  • 101 KW cost approximately $500,000
  • $147,500 of this came from the State of Ohio.
  • 352,279 KWh of electricity have been produced to-date in 5 years, or in other words 70,460 KWh/year.

Phase 2 2010 Rooftop Panels:

  • 101 KW cost $664,527
  • $422,904 of this came from the State of Ohio and the US federal government American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
  • 206,146 KWh of electricity have been produced to-date in 3 years, or in other words 68,715 KWh/year.

Total Rooftop System Summary:

  • Total cost was about $1.1 million, with more than half of this coming from the taxpayers.
  • Annual production is 140,000 KWh, which has a value of about $14,000 per year.
  • Payback on the “investment” will take 78 years ($1.1 million divided by $14,000 per year)
  • Solar panel life is probably more like 25 years, so no payback will ever occur.

Compare Solar Rooftop System to Natural Gas Combined Cycle Gas Turbine Generation (CCGT):

  • $1.1 million buys about 1000 KW of CCGT
  • 1000 KW would generate about 7,446,000 KWh per year (1000 KW x 8760 hours/year x 85%)
  • CCGT would generate 53 times more electricity than the solar panels.
  • CCGT would eliminate 26 times more CO2 than the solar panels, if directly replacing coal.

Phase 3 2012 Parking Canopy Panels:

  • To date the 340 KW parking canopy system is producing at a rate of 315,000 KWh/year.
  • The 340 KW parking canopy was privately funded; therefore the investment information is not available.
  • The private investment was justified by a special power purchase agreement (PPA) for the electricity.


Because TMA is a privately funded organization, it is fitting that they should spend and invest their money in any way they choose, and it is generally none of my business. However, in this case significant public funding was used, electricity rates that we all pay are being affected, and the project is being used by government and media to sway public opinion in favor of further spending on solar panels. I think a few questions directed at our government officials are in order:

Why did we donate taxpayer money for the rooftop solar panels, when the evidence is clear that there are more effective ways to spend money and improve our energy strategy?

What are the details of the PPA for the parking canopy panels? How much extra, above normal market value, are the electricity company customers paying for this electricity?

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