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Berkeley Springs High School greenhouse goes solar

May 26, 2010|By TRISH RUDDER
  • An array of of new solar panels are in place Wednesday on top of a Berkeley Springs High School building. The panels will generate electricity for the schools' greenhouse.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer,

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Solar electric and solar hot water panels are being installed this week to provide the Berkeley Springs High School greenhouse with an extended growing season.

Mountain View Solar & Wind installed eight photovoltaic (PV) solar panels Tuesday on the roof of the school's vocational building next to the greenhouse, and the solar hot water panels will also be installed on the roof this week, Mountain View president Mike McKechnie said.

It is the first school building in Morgan County equipped with solar energy and is the first public school building in the Eastern Panhandle that is generating its own solar electricity by using the sun's energy, Mountain View's director of operations Colin Williams said.

Leigh Jenkins, advanced placement environmental science teacher at Berkeley Springs High School, said the project is being funded with a $41,000 Service Learning grant from State Farm Insurance.

"Service learning is to connect students with community in a meaningful way. We will turn it into a sustainable learning lab," Jenkins said.

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"It will teach kids how to grow food," Jenkins said.

The goal is to extend the growing season and sell the plants through the local farmers' market, she said.

Sabrina Barnes, 17, a high school junior in the AP environmental science class, said the students researched the project and applied forthe grant.

The project was one of 82 chosen from 1,100 in the United States by the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, which is run by young adults, Jenkins said.

"It is possibly one of the best conceived projects chosen," she said. The project is in the environmental responsibility category, Jenkins said.

McKechnie said the installation is led by Jay Smith, 23, a 2009 Shepherd University environmental science graduate, who is employed by Mountain View.

Smith is working with Shepherd University environmental science students, Jen Silva, 24, Jess Aubry, 22, and Gerald McAllister, 21, who are interns working on the project along with Virginia Tech environmental science student John Gordon, 20, a Berkeley Springs High School graduate.

McKechnie said this is the first year Mountain View offered a 10-week internship for college students to work with the company.

"Jay wanted the internship," McKechnie said.

Smith said as the lead installer, he likes teaching and instructing the interns.

The students said they want to find jobs in this field after they graduate, Smith said.

Silva said she is interested in the sustainable building side of environment science.

"We are looking for people like this," McKechnie said.

"We are actively involved in educating the renewable energy work force in this region, which creates more green jobs," he said.

Williams said the greenhouse solar system being installed at the high school is the first public school building in the Eastern Panhandle with both solar electric panels and solar hot water panels.

The system is net metered, which means it is connected to the power company, but it can store energy on the grid by using the sun to make its own electricity, Williams said.

"In times of excess solar generation from the sun, net metering allows the electric meter to reverse itself and essentially store energy produced by the solar PV system," McKechnie said.

The solar panels will provide electricity to run ventilator fans, pumps, meters and grow lights.The solar hot water system will heat the growing beds in the greenhouse, Williams said.

"It will provide all the electricity the greenhouse needs," he said.

Mountain View's engineer Clay Herzog said he was about the same age as the interns when he became interested in solar.

"I got inspired to work with this technology in the 1980s when I was in college," he said.

"I see these kids have an opportunity to be employed in this technology. This is clearly here to stay and this is the future," Herzog said.

"It's immediately cash positive," he said.

"By going solar, you are making one of the soundest investments in today's market, you are helping our environment by producing clean energy and you are creating American green jobs," McKechnie said."A job in the clean energy sector that our country so desperately needs."

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