Puget Sound Energy awards solar power grant to local high schools

June 5, 2009

By Jim Feehan

Next fall, Hazen and Liberty high school students will gain specific renewable energy knowledge through a custom curriculum and a solar panel demonstration project, thanks to a grant from Puget Sound Energy in partnership with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

Hazen, Liberty and four other area schools each received a grant of $26,700 last month from PSE.

Solar panels, similar to these at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, will be installed this summer near the entrance to Liberty High School, thanks to a grant from Puget Sound Energy. By Jim Feehan

Solar panels, similar to these at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, will be installed this summer near the entrance to Liberty High School, thanks to a grant from Puget Sound Energy. By Jim Feehan

A portion of each grant will pay for the design and installation of a 1.5-kilowatt solar array at each school, as well as monitoring software that allows the students to track how much electrical energy the solar arrays are producing. The majority of the Renton School District grant will be provided to the Hazen Science Department, spearheaded by Science Chair Teresa Coda. 

The grant will cover classroom curriculum, teacher training and renewable energy materials provided by the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

The school district will contribute an additional kilowatt of capacity, increasing the size of the demonstration project to 2.5 kilowatts. The additional cost will be quickly recovered in the form of a credit from PSE as the power generated goes directly back into the utility’s grid, said J. Stine, of the Renton School District’s Resource Conservation Management Office.

The solar panels will be installed at the top of the south wall of the Hazen Performing Arts Center on custom-fabricated metal racks. The location and angle of the solar panels will make them highly visible, while maximizing southern exposure and electrical power output, Stine said.

“Visibility is one of the main criteria for being part of PSE’s and Bonneville Environmental Foundations Solar 4R Schools program,” he said.

Another visible feature of the project will be the installation of an LED wall-mounted exterior lighting demonstration project in the adjacent courtyard. The lights will use the equivalent power generated from the solar arrays as a tangible example of the solar produced power, Stine said.

Currently in the design stage, the solar demonstration project will be installed during summer break, before school resumes in September, Stine said. A similar demonstration project is also under way in the Skyway neighborhood of Renton, sponsored by Seattle City Light and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation at Dimmitt Middle School. 

At Liberty, the Issaquah Schools Foundation contributed $9,600 for a mounting pole, a tracking device and inverters in addition to the $26,700 grant from PSE.

Liberty’s solar panels won’t be hard to find. They’ll be installed on a 12-foot pole in front of the main entrance, said Mark Buchli, a science teacher at Liberty. “We wanted to choose a site to make it as visible as possible,” Buchli said. 

At 1.5 kilowatt, each solar array will generate enough power, on average, to operate 15 notebook computers for 1,000 hours. In addition, to the solar panels, the grant supports the purchase of inverters to connect renewable energy generators to each school’s electrical system, monitoring software, as well as teaching, training and lesson plans developed by the Bonneville Environmental Foundation as part of its Solar 4R Schools program.

Students in Buchli’s physics, honors physics and freshman physical science classes will be able to chart the amount of energy produced by the solar panels. They’ll also learn about the benefits of solar energy and other renewable energy sources, Buchli said.

Next academic year, Buchli and his physics students will also tour Maywood Middle School, Apollo, Briarwood, and Maple Hills and Newcastle elementary schools to discuss the importance of alternative energy sources such as solar panels.

“Any school in the district can tap into this data from Mark,” said John Macartney, Issaquah School District resource conservation manager.

School districts qualifying for the Solar Schools program submitted grant applications earlier this year detailing their educational goals, how their project would bring renewable energy technologies and what steps would be taken to increase community awareness of the potential for using renewable energy technologies. 

Eleonar Schneider of Newcastle was looking into solar energy panels for her house when she discovered PSE’s Solar Schools program. 

“I found out we needed to have a resource conservation manager, which we already had in John,” said Schneider, who wrote the grant application. “It’s like the moon and the stars aligned.”

Since 2004, PSE has funded the installation of systems at Western Washington University, Interlake High School in Bellevue and the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery. Neighboring Hazen High School in Renton was among the schools receiving a grant this year.

“Today’s students are hungry for real-world experience, to be able to see first-hand how things work,” said Cal Shirley, vice president of Energy Efficiency for Puget Sound Energy. “Our solar grant program brings renewable energy to the classroom and makes the challenges and solutions we face with energy real and compelling.”


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