On a sweltering, sunny day this summer, Allentown Public Works Director Peter Wernsdorfer had an idea.
Looking out over the sun-dappled saw-tooth roof of the Bridgeworks Industrial Center outside his S. 10th Street office during a meeting with Mayor Ed Pawlowski, he wondered aloud, ''Why not put solar panels up here?''
On Tuesday, with the help of a $517,045 grant from the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority, the city announced that it plans to cover the roof of the building with solar panels over the next five years.
Phase One of the project, to be completed within two years using the grant money, will install 424 solar panels.
The clean energy project won't immediately generate a cash windfall for the city. The city will contribute $192,000 in engineering studies, and Phase One will generate only about 73,342 kilowatt hours a year, saving the city about $7,200 in energy costs.
But by the completion of the $11 million installation, city officials hope 8,400 solar panels will generate 1,433 megawatts of energy a year, enough to power the city's Bridgeworks Public Works building, the Bridgeworks Industrial Center and to sell power back to the electric grid, producing $144,000 in yearly revenue.
Wernsdorfer said the project should repay its total cost of construction within seven to nine years of its completion, which he projects will take about five years.
''This is really the first phase in a multiphase grant,'' Pawlowski said.
Allentown would join a growing number of municipalities nationwide that are adding solar power in an effort to save money and reduce pollution.