NEGAUNEE - Students walking the halls of Negaunee High School may not realize it, but a portion of the electricity they use is now coming from directly over their heads.
Over the summer a 10-kilowatt solar panel system was installed on the roof of the high school building, providing a small amount of the school's electricity and helping to teach students about being more "green."
"It's an educational tool right now," Superintendent Jim Derocher said. "We're trying to show students we don't have to use coal to produce electricity."
While not producing all the electricity used at Negaunee High School, the solar panels installed on the school building’s roof produce some of the energy used. So far the panels have produced enough energy to avoid the creation of 11,545 pounds of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. (Negaunee Public Schools photo) Inset at left is a monitor near the school’s entrance that displays graphs and readouts of energy produced by the panels. The same information can be accessed on the district’s Web site. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
Since the installation earlier this month of monitoring software that tracks the solar panel activity, the system has produced 5,816 kilowatt hours of electricity. That's enough energy to operate a TV for 40,422 hours, 44 computers for a year or enough energy to power 185 homes for a day, according to the school district's Web site.
By using the solar power, the high school has avoided creating 11,562 pounds of carbon dioxide, 22 pounds of nitrogen oxide and 46 pounds of sulfur dioxide, all greenhouse gases. That's as much pollution as the average passenger car emits over 422 days.
Statistics on how much energy is produced and the environmental benefits can be learned by visiting the district's Web site at www.negaunee.k12.mi.us and clicking on "NHS Solar Panel Monitor."
The site lists how much energy is currently being generated, the total energy generated over the lifetime of the system and a daily, weekly and monthly breakdown of what is being generated and at what time of day.
"At the end of the school year it will at least run our computers," Derocher said.
To give students an idea of what the solar panels are doing, the school has set up a TV monitor near the high school office that displays the monitoring software.
"Any energy generated by the system goes to help offset the costs of electricity at the high school," Derocher said.
The panels were installed through a $50,000 grant from the Energy Office of the U.S. Department of Labor and Economic Growth, $25,000 from WPPI and $5,000 from the city of Negaunee, with the district providing the additional $12,769 to complete the $92,796 project.
Derocher said Negaunee City Manager Gerald Peterson and officials at WPPI were instrumental in securing the grant money.
The solar panels may be just the beginning for alternative energy use at the high school.
"We are looking now through a smaller grant to install a wind turbine up there," Derocher said.
Although the turbine would also be for educational purposes, having those tools in place could open the door for larger projects in the future, he said.