HRVHS receives funding to install 80 rooftop solar panels

With tight budgets, public schools often have to reconcile cutting costs with maintaining quality educational services.

Hood River Valley High School recently received funding to install 80 solar panels to the roof of the building’s science wing, which will not only help reduce the facility’s energy bill, but will also expand educational opportunities for its students.

The school is one of over a dozen facilities in Oregon that have received grant funding through Pacific Power’s Blue Sky Renewable Energy program. This nonprofit arm of the utility company is responsible for providing funding to “help bring new renewable energy facilities on-line” according to its website.

HRVHS received over $38,000 from Blue Sky and another $36,000 from the Oregon Department of Energy for the project, according to Principal Rich Polkinghorn. He added that most of the $8,000 that comprises the remaining portion of the project is being covered by corporate and private donations.

The panels are expected to save the school approximately $2,300 a year in electricity costs, which represents a 1- to 2-percent dent in the school’s total electric bill.

Polkinghorn acknowledged the cost reduction is “not a ton, but it helps,” and added that of equal importance to cost-saving is the educational component of the project, which will benefit students in the high school’s alternative energy resources class as well as the Earth Club.

“The students will get to have a more back-end, hands-on experience with the panels,” he noted, and added that renewable energy is “great to participate in and it’s a great message to kids.”

Ted Cramer, a science teacher at HRVHS who also serves as the instructor for the alternative energy resources class as well as Earth Club advisor, helped consult on the grant that was written by Hood River County Education Foundation Executive Director Paul Lindberg. Cramer said his students have already had hands-on experience with renewable energy by studying the electrical productivity of the school’s wind turbine located on the southwest side of campus, but noted the solar panels will provide a new, needed challenge.

“Solar energy is the missing link in our renewable energy consortium,” he said, “and these solar panels will help fill that niche.”

In addition to tracking the power-generating capacity of the panels, Cramer added that students will also implement a cost-benefit analysis regarding the panel’s installation, figuring out how much power the panels need to produce and how long they need to produce it before the panels have recouped their cost.

Like Polkinghorn, Cramer said the panels won’t make a huge impact in the school’s utility bills, but they could become more valuable over time, noting that “electricity costs are likely not going to go anywhere but up.”

The installation date of the panels has not been set in stone, but Cramer said the panels should be up and running before the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

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