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By Ed Fincher
Pagosa Springs Middle School received an array of photovoltaic solar panels last week thanks to those La Plata Electric Association members who contribute to the Local Green Power Fund.
The panels were installed on the school’s roof early last Thursday by Shaw Solar, of Durango.
The LPEA Board of Directors’ policy No. 361 directs staff to organize and fund installation of systems on middle schools within the cooperative’s service territory. The Local Green Power Fund will invest a total of $33,200 for installation of middle school systems. Monies are generated when members opt to contribute to the fund by designating that a minimum of $0.08 be added to their electric bill each month.
“The initial directive was to spread the donated funds around and introduce solar power to the broadest base possible in our service territory,” said Mark Schwantes, LPEA manager of corporate services. “Middle schools were selected with the idea that the solar panels could be used to educate students about how electricity is generated from the sun, while at the same time generating some power for the schools.”
“Theoretically, if we made energy they would buy it back,” PSMS Principal Chris Hinger explained to a small group of students allowed onto the roof to get a look at the new panels. “They are getting this all hooked up and then you guys will be able to monitor it online and see how much energy we generate with these. From my understanding there is the ability for us to generate electricity, but since we are such a large facility we will probably burn it up faster than we can make it. But there are households that sell back extra power.”
As the students divided their time between a closer inspection of the panels and rescuing a few stray footballs stranded on the roof for who knows how long (tossing them down to their envious classmates on the playground), Hinger continued to describe how the panels would be used for educational purposes.
“The guys who installed it haven’t done the training with us so we haven’t been able to monitor it yet,” he said, “but once it’s up and running we will be able to go online and monitor what we’re generating right now and see trends over time and over the summer.”
Hinger explained that not only will science classes be able to study the array but also, “The social studies classes have a lot of this renewable energy and resources stuff tied into their curriculum, and we have an elective class that specializes on green energy. So this will be another tool that we can just use, monitor, graph and analyze, and talk about how much does a regular household use.”
The website that goes along with the panels will allow teachers and students to compare the amount of energy generated by the school’s new solar panels with how much an average house uses. If a student’s family were to install solar panels on their house, they will be able to calculate how much money the family could save on their monthly bill, how much extra energy they could generate and sell back to the grid, as well as how long it would take for the savings to make up for the original cost of installation.