Copernicus to get solar panels


The 1,900-seat theater in the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., was the first in the city built exclusively for talking motion pictures, and 85 years later it may be the first of the remaining original movie houses in the city to have solar panels on its roof.

"To the best of our knowledge, we think we’re the first to have a large solar array on such a large, historic theater," Copernicus Center executive director Gregg Kobelinski said.

The cost of the project is about $225,000, which includes installing a new roof on the theater.

Several rows of solar panels, taking up 3,100 square feet of space, will cover about half of the roof of the theater, project manager Paul Szczesny of Eco Solar Solutions, 5690 N. Milwaukee Ave., said. "We definitely had some design challenges because it is such an old building, trying to integrate such a new system," Szczesny said.

The former Gateway Theater in the center is now named the Mitchell Kobelinski Theater, and it is used more for live performances and ethnic festivals than for movies. In 1979 the Copernicus Foundation purchased the building, which was constructed in 1930, to serve as its headquarters.

Kobelinski said that he became interested in a solar roof after he heard representatives of Eco Solar speak at a Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce meeting last year. "With the energy savings, we expect this will pay for itself in 7 to 9 years," he said.

The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation has awarded the center an $85,440 grant to help pay for the project. Plans call for construction to start this summer.

It is estimated that the system will generate 53,400 kilowatt-hours a year, enough energy to power five homes, according to Nick Poplawski, a program analyst with the clean energy foundation. The foundation has awarded more than $202 million in grants since 2001.

One of the reasons that solar energy projects are affordable is that Commonwealth Edison provides credit for unused energy, Poplawski said. "It’s called net metering," he said. "You’re able to get credit for the kilowatt-hours that you put back into the grid."

Poplawski said that the size of the Copernicus Center make the project unusual. "It’s old 20th Century technology meeting new 21st Century technology," he said.