Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Jesse Murphy
Editorial@lhvc.com 

Niwot high to get solar panels

 

November 16, 2017

Photo by Dara Ward From left, Kimberly Fung, Jaydon Weaver, William Linroth, Mercer Stauch and Kyndall Thompson. Others involved but not pictured include Henry Stauch and Mason Williams.

Niwot High School will soon have a new roof, but not the kind made of shingles.

Thanks to a power purchase agreement, the St. Vrain Valley School District will be installing solar panels at NHS, Erie Middle School and Red Hawk Elementary over the winter.

Dara Ward, energy and sustainability manager for the district, said that this will become a great opportunity for the students as well as the facilities and constituents.

“Going into this project for the district, it was really important to not pay more for energy,” Ward said. “But also to have a significant educational component. We’re providing advanced monitoring that the students will have access to. Inside the classroom they can see what’s happening with the system at any point during the day. They can download that data and analyze it, look at other aspects to see what works and what doesn’t for the school. There are all types of components that will be great for them to study.”

The panels themselves arrived last week, and installation will begin next month. They will cover most of the roof, but allow for space for “solar tubes,” kind of a skylight that lets the sun into classrooms and hallways that will come in next summer.

“We wanted to make sure that we accounted for that,” Ward said. “That’s pretty exciting. We’ll not only have the solar power that covers 60 percent of the school’s usage, we’ll also be getting these really nice tubes bringing in that natural light.”

The district entered into a 20-year agreement on the panels with a locked-in energy cost over that time period. There will also be no maintenance or upgrade costs for the district.

In the event that there is a surplus of energy, which isn’t likely since the system is estimated to generate about 60 percent of the school’s usage, any excess will give the school a credit on the next month’s bill.

Saving money on energy costs comes along with a valuable educational aspect for students at NHS.

Ward said that Kyndall Thompson — along with several other students — was instrumental in getting this project approved by the board.

“They shared with the board of education on why this is good for our community and for learning,” Ward said. “They really got that real-world application and understanding of how solar technology works and how it’s good for our planet.”

Through the process, the students learned how various fields of expertise can play into occupations within the energy industry.

“Having these learning opportunities where our students are heavily involved and making an impact is really getting them prepared to take on bigger roles as leaders,” Ward said. “We try to make those connections for the students in terms of them gaining those skills to be competitive as they enter the workforce or go on to higher education.”

She said there were students with a big range of interests from marketing to economics.

“They realized that the energy sector covers all of those different areas,” Ward said. “Throughout the year we talked about all of these things, like how policy impacts this agreement, how it protects the district from rising utility prices, all of these elements.”

Students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) classes will also be able to monitor and learn about the solar facility at their schools as part of curriculum.

“In terms of monitoring, they will be looking at the system too because they want to be sure that it’s operating as efficiently as possible,” Ward said. “The company essentially won’t get paid if it’s not generating electricity, so they want it to be efficient. But our students get to monitor the whole process as well.”

Ward added that the board was very receptive to the idea.

“Our board of education is really supportive and open-minded,” Ward said. “So I think they embrace and encourage this type of dialogue. The fact that they’re hearing from a group of students and let this project come to fruition was a really positive experience for everybody. We were very pleased with the outcome of this project, and the students were happy to be able to present the facts and the project to the board and get a unanimous ‘yes’ on the project.

“The district is really becoming a leader in the (kindergarten-12th) green movement. It’s been a privilege to work with these schools, administrators, students and parents. It’s incredible seeing the shift over the past few years. I think this is just the first in a series of more positive projects to come.”

Ward said that although she couldn’t get into specifics, there are other projects in the works concerning renewable energy and water conservation within the district’s buildings.

“We’re always thinking about what is cutting edge and how we can be innovative,” Ward said. “And again be responsible with taxpayer money. We want to do the right thing for the schools and be responsible citizens within the district.”

 

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