By Brian Boisjoli
Champlain Valley Union High School
Nearly four years ago, an addition was made to the school that few students even know is there. A small solar energy system located on the roof above the main entrance of the school has been generating energy daily.
During the summer of 2009, the solar panels were donated and installed for a total price of around $20,000. The installation cost CVU nothing, however, since the system was installed with a grant from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to promote education and awareness about renewable energy. The foundation’s idea behind the installation of the system was creative and had potential, but few students and staff at CVU even know it exists.
Generating more than 3,600 kilowatts of energy since they were installed, the solar panels have not yet broken even with their cost. CVU pays an average of 13 to 14 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity. With the school’s bill running at this rate, it’s an approximated 45 years until the installation of the school’s solar panels pays off its installation price.
This may seem like a large investment that wasn’t worth it. In four years, however, the solar panels have prevented a lot of pollution and halted the release of many greenhouse gases. To help put things in perspective, these solar panels have saved enough energy to power a television for 2.9 years, or to power 101 homes for one day. As of right now, the system has avoided the pollution an average passenger car emits over the course of 229 days.
As solar panels help CVU save money, the Environmental Club—EnACT—has been working to environmentally enlighten CVU.
CVU is in its second year of participation in the Whole School Energy Challenge—a challenge hosted by Efficiency Vermont in partnership with the Vermont Energy Education Program and the Vermont Superintendents Association’s School Energy Management Program, where schools try to reduce their energy costs by 10 percent.
In 2011-2012, the first school year CVU tried to complete the challenge, it finished with a close 8.11 percent. This seems like a huge disappointment, but truthfully, CVU accomplished a huge cut in energy spending. With this percentage saved, the school saved $13,700 dollars in energy bills. With this success came the motivation to complete the challenge during the following year.
The 2012-2013 year brought great potential to save as much, or more, electricity than last year. Currently, the school has saved a considerable amount of energy, measuring at about 14.4 percent cuts. These school year measurements began last May and end tallying this May. This small change in percentage from last year makes a colossal difference in money savings. EnACT seems to be making a large impact on the minds of the students, giving them insight on how to save energy with simple tasks such as turning off computers and lights and other small behavioral changes.
The faculty advisor of EnACT, Katie Antos-Ketcham, also an English teacher, said, “efforts are definitely paying off.”
To have these improvements with only one renovation to auditorium lights last year, costing less than $500, is phenomenal.
In addition, a large renovation here at CVU was under review and recently passed in a CSSU district vote. This renovation is designed to save CVU $24,536 annually. This renovation, called a “lighting retrofit,” will be installed over the summer, so no students will be affected while trying to learn. The lighting retrofit is designed to add more options of lights to turn on in a classroom. For example, teachers would be able to turn on the back row of lights while the classroom’s front lights remain off. As you can assume, these availabilities will offer much more savings in electricity, ultimately saving CVU tremendous amounts of money.
It is clear that CVU has been adapting to the environmental crisis we face today. In the past few years, CVU has made substantial changes to not only their systems, but also to their students’ mindsets on energy saving.
“Students have made huge behavioral changes,” Antos-Ketcham said.
This is exactly what CVU needs in terms of dealing with the energy and environmental issues being brought upon us. CVU simply needs to continue with the path it has chosen because it will lead to extreme savings and only positive repercussions.