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School boards hear student energy pitches

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Sterling House fifth and sixth graders at Williston Central School recently completed an interdisciplinary unit on renewable energy. A community service piece of the unit was to solicit proposal from solar companies to install solar panels at the school. At the May 9 school board meeting the students presented their information to the school board. Pictured above are Sterling House teachers and students (left to right, back row) Jared Baily, Amy Durant, Mia O’Farrell, Maddie Huber, Nathan VanBuren, Tommy Zych, Mindy Conry and Joy Peterson. Front row (left to right): Joe Warren and Cris Milks. Not shown: Jared Avery. (Courtesy photo)

A sterling idea for solar power prompted six Williston Central School students to present an energy plan to the Williston School Board on May 9.

“All of Sterling House went outside and gathered solar exposure and tracked the wind,” said WCS sixth-grader Joe Warren. “After we got all the data, we analyzed that data and found out that we could use some solar panels.”

Sixth-grader Tommy Zych elaborated on Warren’s statements.

“The findings we got from the solar readings and the wind readings showed us that we would be a good solar site,” Zych said. “All of the solar sites (on the WCS roof) that we have in this proposal are all facing south, which since we are north of the equator, the sun will be south of us, and therefore we will be getting more sun.”

Mia O’Farrell, also in sixth grade, presented the environmental benefits of the proposal.

“We chose solar power because solar panels are silent and they won’t distract any of the classrooms in WCS,” O’Farrell said. “By using solar power, there’s no air pollution because we are getting energy from the sun.”

The energy plan presented for the board’s consideration assumes a 12-year lease for fixed solar panels from Real Goods Solar. Energy grants in the first year would result in no cost to the school district. In years 2 to 12, the district would be responsible for annual payments of approximately $21,000, with an option to purchase the panels for $1 in year 13. While a $60,000 payment would be required in year 17 for a new solar inverter, energy savings in year 16 are estimated at $106,000.

Board member Giovanna Boggero spoke favorably of the project, but said the board needs time to objectively analyze the data.

“From my perspective, it seems like a no-brainer,” Boggero said. “I just would like to have a little more time to understand the numbers, because ultimately we have a fiscal responsibility for our town.”

Jared Bailey, the Sterling House teacher who is serving as the point person for the project, noted that the longer the board waits, the lesser the likelihood is that grant monies will be available.

“The grants are there until they’re claimed by the projects, so they could be there if we wait, but there’s no guarantee,” said Bailey.

Williston District Principal Walter Nardelli closed the discussion by saying he will ask Chittenden South Supervisory Union Chief Operations Officer Bob Mason to crunch the numbers and review any legal issues related to the proposal.

CVU’S 10 PERCENT CHALLENGE

At the same time the Williston School Board was listening to the solar proposal in Room 160 of Champlain Valley Union High School, the CVU High School Board was just down the hall in Room 140, hearing an energy pitch from the CVU Environmental Action Club (EnACT).

Last fall, EnACT enacted a “10 percent challenge,” with the goal of reducing CVU’s energy consumption by 10 percent for the school year. While senior Rachel Dunphy said the school is currently “hovering around 9 percent,” with 124,910 kilowatt hours of energy and $13,000 saved, junior Emma Hamilton put the accomplishment in perspective.

“We have saved enough energy to power a typical Vermont home for 18 years,” said Hamilton. “The energy we’ve saved is equivalent to 22 solar trackers working for a year.”

While many of the energy saving tactics advocated by EnACT are intuitive behavioral changes, such as turning off lights or powering down computers monitors when not in use, the group is also researching programmable demand limiting systems, which would allow the school to automatically shut off certain energy systems during periods of low energy demand.

“It has been really eye-opening to see that we can make a difference in our school environment, and how just this year it’s mainly been behavioral changes and we’ve saved 9 percent,” said senior Kathryn Maitland.

CVU Principal Sean McMannon praised the efforts of EnACT and the entire CVU community.

“I think this year—of the years that I’ve been here—is the most impressive with groups of students that have done things to improve their own school and the communities around us,” said McMannon. “I haven’t seen it to this level before and it’s really, really impressive.”