Guest Column: How Jennings County Public Library Ditched the Grid—and Its Energy Bills

Posted by Susan M. Brackney, Brenda Campbell

What could you do with an extra $60,000? After a very recent switch to solar power, that’s about how much one Indiana-based library will be saving on electricity each year. Jennings County Public Library in North Vernon, Indiana converted its 33,000-square-foot facility to solar power, and, as a result, some area residents and even the local school system and county government now may be considering their solar power options, too.

Here’s Brenda Campbell, Director of Educational Development and Marketing for Jennings County Public Library, in her own words:


jcpl_solar1With electric bills continuing to increase and a prediction from the energy company that the increases would continue to occur year after year, our director, Mary Hougland, decided that it was time to look for a solution. After much research, the library board decided to undergo a campaign to cut down electrical utility expenses. Ultimately, the result will be no energy bill. You did not misread. That’s NO energy bill!

Part of the undertaking included switching all of the library’s halogen light bulbs to the more energy-efficient LED lights, putting in added insulation, and upgrading the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, which was 17 years old. By making those changes alone, the library’s electric bill was halved.

Then came the exciting part of the project: the installation of solar panels to generate electricity for the facility.

The 640 solar panels that cover a little more than one-third of the library’s roof will provide enough energy to make the library “net zero.” (Net zero means having no electric bill by sustaining its own energy.)

A television in the lobby will show information, such as the amount of energy being created by the solar panels (which varies, depending on the time of day and cloud cover), and the carbon dioxide levels being emitted (which is zero.) Real-time numbers will also be available on the library’s webpage at

We are proud to be the largest public facility in the state to be net zero, and we are the very first to use retrofitting to update our lighting.

Indianapolis-based Johnson-Melloh Solutions designed the system and also provides a guarantee of “net zero” energy costs; so, if the library does incur an energy bill, Johnson-Melloh will pay the difference and install more solar panels to generate more energy.

Most importantly, the solar energy project is being instituted at no cost to the taxpayer. Money to purchase the system was provided by a bond that will be repaid in ten to 15 years through the elimination of electric costs. The money that would have been used to pay the electric bill is now going toward paying off the bond.

jcpl_solar2A large tracking panel by the library entrance follows the sun’s movement throughout the day and powers the library’s marquee. The tracking panels have captured a great deal of interest, prompting some local businesses and residents to look into renewable energy.

People see the tracking panel as they drive past, and they come back to the library to see what’s going on. We welcome any and all to come in, see the panels, and ask questions.

It’s all part of contributing to our community.

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