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Students fuel drive for RFHS solar array, school board gives OK

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By Fiona Laird and Tavia Teitler

Special to The Sopris Sun

There is something incredible about watching a dream one has had for years finally come true. For us and all members of the Roaring Fork High School Energy Club, that is what is happening now. After years of trying, we have cleared the final hurdle and are now on the way to getting solar panels at our school.

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On Sept. 10, a proposal for installing solar panels at Roaring Fork High School was passed unanimously by the school board. Within a year, the solar array, which will provide 100 percent of the school’s electrical energy, will be outside our library windows. The 379 kW solar array will also be installed with no upfront cost to the Roaring Fork School District.

The array is being built through a power purchase agreement, in which a funder will install and pay for the panels and the school district will purchase the energy provided by the array. The use of these solar panels will save the District $398,000 over the course of 20 years and prevent 9,226 tons of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere.

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With some members of our club having been involved in energy since fifth and sixth grade at Carbondale Middle School, the process of pursuing solar energy has been a long one. As middle schoolers, we worked to improve the energy efficiency at our school, and began to think of ways to take that effort a step further. The idea that we could install solar panels at our school and power our school renewably was one that greatly appealed to all of us.

As we investigated further, however, we faced many obstacles: the panels were expensive, the middle school roof was not sturdy enough, and we had little place elsewhere to put them. Solar on our school became more of a far-fetched dream than a practical goal.

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When we entered high school and the RFHS Energy Club, we discovered that all students involved had a common vision of having solar panels at our school one day. A partnership was created between our club, the school administration,  the school district, Sunsense Solar, and Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), and for the last couple of years, we have experimented with many different possibilities to get solar energy at the school. One option was putting panels on the roof, another creating a carport, but due to structural problems with the roof and extensive expenses, neither option worked out. In the meantime, our club worked on improving the efficiency of Roaring Fork High School, in part so that if we did eventually install a solar array, it wouldn’t have to be as large.

Last school year, we realized that the idea of solar on a carport was not feasible, but discovered the possibility of a solar array behind the school working out. This June, our power-purchase agreement was accepted by Xcel Energy. With the help of all the entities involved in the initial partnership, we approached the final steps of the process. All members of the RFHS Energy Club were absolutely thrilled and amazed that the project had progressed so far, and were eager to participate in seeing the project through to the end.  

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In August, we went to the Carbondale Board of Trustees to present the idea and ask for their support. They unanimously passed a resolution of support, which was extremely exciting for us because it was yet another step closer to getting a solar array installed.

On Sept. 8, we held a community meeting at Roaring Fork High School to get community input on the project and learn about any concerns community members had. Overall, the level of support was fantastic and most people were very enthusiastic about seeing this project come through. A prominent theme was the mutual benefits of this project — for the students of RFHS, the community and the world.

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It has been incredible for all members of the Energy Club to see the number of people who share the same passion for making solar energy at Roaring Fork High School a reality, and it has been so inspiring to us to receive their support. Going into the community meeting, we were all extremely nervous, but we left with big smiles on our faces, feeling much more confident and hopeful about the outcome of the solar array project.

When members of the Energy Club learned that the solar proposal was passed by the school board, there was quite a bit of happy-dancing and high-fiving. We could not be more grateful for the incredible community support we’ve received for this project.

The entire process of getting solar at RFHS has been a huge collaborative effort between so many people and organizations, and we would like to thank Sunsense Solar, CLEER, the Roaring Fork School District and everyone who has helped make solar a reality instead of a dream. We are also infinitely appreciative for Energy Club leader Wendy Boland and principal Drew Adams. The Roaring Fork High School Energy Club, and everyone at our school, looks forward to the day when we can look out our library windows and see the solar panels that are powering our school.

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