As part of the science curriculum in the Houghton-Portage Township Schools, students learn about the solar system. Now, they're learning about solar power.
The Upper Peninsula school district installed a roof-mounted, 21.6 kilowatt, 56-panel solar photovoltaic energy system that will offset energy costs and provide real-world lessons about renewable energy. The array was partially funded by a $38,000 grant through the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.
The solar panel installation was the culmination of previous steps Houghton-Portage Township Schools had taken to improve energy efficiency. The district completed an energy audit to identify areas where improvements could be made to save money, and then completed several efficiency upgrades.
Parents pushed for the next step: a move to renewable energy so that students could experience the benefits first-hand.
"This project will reduce the electricity consumption and generate our own renewable energy," Schools Superintendent Doreen Kramer said.
Julie Staveland, a state energy program specialist with EGLE's Energy Service Unit, worked with the district on their application and grant agreement. The money was provided the unit's Community Energy Management Incentive Program. She visited the site before the project started and after it was completed.
"The Houghton-Portage Township Schools project is a great example of energy management -- benchmark your buildings, have an energy audit done, do energy efficiency upgrades and then install renewables," Staveland said.
As part of the agreement between EGLE and Houghton-Portage Township Schools, EGLE staff will be able to access data on the project to see how much energy the panels generate and the savings on energy bills. The project anticipates saving 21,400 kilowatt hours annually for the district.
But the project is about more than bottom-line savings for the district.
"By having this solar energy installation, we are providing new learning opportunities to our students," Kramer said. "The science, math and environment studies classes at the middle and high school will be able to include this project into their curriculum and provide a hands-on learning opportunity about renewable energy. This is also an opportunity for our elementary students to see how this project is affecting our school and the environment."
Staveland agreed: "This program is an amazing partnership between the school and the parents, a whole community effort, to get this project done and incorporated into the curriculum because they recognize the importance of energy management and the transition to renewables."
Similar classroom opportunities are planned in seven other school districts in Michigan that bought a total of 17 electric school buses through EGLE's Fuel Transformation Program. Ann Arbor, Gaylord, Kalamazoo, Oxford, Roseville, Three Rivers, and Zeeland will use their buses as part of lessons on alternative transportation, electric vehicles, and renewable energy.
Current funding opportunities through EGLE's Energy Services Unit can be found on its website.