In Bedford County, Pennsylvania, there is a small township of 687 citizens. It is classified as low-income, known for lacking business, and it is made up of mostly retirees and the young people who travel out of town to support them.
The history of Broad Top Township lies in deep mining, an industry that left its remains for the people to deal with later.
To make sure every home had affordable wastewater treatment, Broad Top Township implemented a new system. But in 2011, when the plan was 95 percent done, the central water system’s biggest expense was electricity.
Because of the increase in electricity, the township would have had to raise monthly bills to fit the costs, putting a substantial burden on residents, a majority of whom were living on fixed incomes.
Secretary of Broad Top Township Dave Thomas said the community solicited an audit on the treatment system to find ways to save energy, but the findings showed the system was already as efficient as possible.
“At that point, we were sort of stumped. So we thought, ‘Why don’t we make our own electricity?’” Thomas said.
The township reached out to professionals to find out the plausibility of generating solar energy, but many were doubtful because of the lack of solar use in Pennsylvania at that time.
When the results came back that solar could be a solution for the township, it applied for and received a grant to help with the costs.
The township installed 281 panels on six strands, creating a 69-kilowatt solar array to feed into the treatment plant.
“We were one of the first townships in PA to go this route,” Thomas said.
For the past five years, 50 percent of the electricity the township has used has been generated through the solar panel system. What it doesn’t use goes directly back into the grid. After weathering a half of a decade, Thomas said, the system works as if it were brand new and requires hardly any maintenance.
“Solar allowed us to be able to stretch our available dollars in order to find a solution to the problem,” he said.
Broad Top turned to a clean energy option that allows it to meet the needs of the small township and its residents on their own turf and on their own terms.
“In Broad Top Township, we do all our own work other than engineering,” Thomas said. “Everything we have, we install, build and operate ourselves. And we take great pride in that.”