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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Retirement community installs first solar panels in shift toward sustainability

Oak Hammock at the University of Florida becomes the first continuing care retirement community to shift toward sustainable energy in Florida

Workers lift up the first solar panel installed on the rooftops of Oak Hammock at the University of Florida on Tuesday, July 20, 2021.
Workers lift up the first solar panel installed on the rooftops of Oak Hammock at the University of Florida on Tuesday, July 20, 2021.

A single solar panel lifted onto the rooftops of a retirement community was ready for the sun as a new sustainability project finally saw daylight. 

Oak Hammock Retirement Community at UF on 5100 SW 25th Blvd. will become the first continuing care retirement community in Florida to shift toward sustainable energy. Its first solar panel was installed in front of residents and project managers Tuesday morning. 

“Failure can be done alone; success requires a team,” Nelson Logan, a resident and engineer of the project, said. 

The more than four-year endeavor started with 24 panels installed by Solar Impact, a local solar panel installer. They are the first of 682 bifacial panels, which will capture and generate solar power for the whole community. 

The Oak Hammock Chief Financial Officer Andrew Davey said the project cost $603,000 and said the power bill per month would be 5% lower.

Solar panels have a lifespan of about 25 to 30 years, according to an Oak Hammock press release. The panels will also generate an annual $50,000 in savings.

Logan said he was initially unsure whether the project would come to fruition. 

“It's gratifying to think that we're doing a little part in trying to be economic using our resources wisely,” he said.

The project was proposed by the late Lee Bidgood, a chemical engineer and resident of the community. Logan said after Bidgood retired, he moved to Oak Hammock and thought the roof should be used to support solar power.

“This is going to be a 30-year warranty kind of project; and most of us will be gone, but others will benefit from it and the planet will benefit from it,” Logan said. 

Barry Jacobson, the company’s president and founder, said he was approached about the Oak Hammock project 12 years ago. 

John Paul, one of the engineers and residents, said the support of the Oak Hammock community made the project possible. 

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“At the end of the day everybody kind of collaborated: that's both the user community together with management,” he said. “That was a big piece of this that there was no pushback from management, because if we could make a business case and it made sense, they were more than willing to listen.”

Bill Rossi, one of the engineers and residents, pitched the project to the finance committee of the Oak Hammock Board of Directors in a presentation on Oct. 15, 2019. The board of directors approved the project in February 2020. 

“A lot of people talk about renewable energy and using some wind, water to generate our electricity rather than coal fired plants,” he said. “We've done something about it: the big difference between talking about it and doing something about it.”

Rossi said other communities and individuals need to rethink how they impact the environment to be sustainable. 

“Little habit changes by a lot of people end up being big effects,” he said. “People need to start thinking in terms of economics and saving this planet.”

As Logan, Paul and Rossi witnessed the first panel being installed, they smiled and shook hands with each other.

”I feel pride because we have done something good for Oak Hammock,” Rossi said. “It's a big win for this community, it's a big win for Oak Hammock and it's a big win for us.”

Contact Phong Huynh at phunyh@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @phongphont.



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