Bright, sunny day for RFHS solar array | PostIndependent.com

Bright, sunny day for RFHS solar array

What started as a big dream several years ago for an energetic group of middle school students is now a big reality that will serve as their lasting gift to Roaring Fork High School and the Carbondale community.

Students in the Rams Energy Club, led by Fiona Laird, Emily Mata and Tavia Teitler, dedicated the school's new 385-kilowatt solar array under a bright, sunny sky during a Thursday ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The 1,242 solar panels, situated on the south lawn at the school campus, will power 100 percent of Roaring Fork's annual electric usage, giving the facility a net-zero status in terms of power use.

In fact, the array will feed any of the generated electricity the school doesn't use back to the Xcel Energy grid year-round, according to project officials.

"We didn't know if it would ever actually happen," Laird admitted before a gathering of students, parents, participating companies and Carbondale, Garfield County and Roaring Fork School District officials. "It always seemed more like a fun thing to talk about than an actual possibility."

Mata explained how the student club worked with Clean Energy Economy for the Region, installers Sunsense Solar and school officials to find the right location for the solar panels before settling on the unused section of the school campus at the southern edge of town.

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That then led to the financial arrangement to make it happen, involving a power purchase agreement with Sunforce Solutions of California to fund the project and Samuel Engineering to hold ownership of the solar array.

"Not only will we be significantly reducing our carbon emissions and doing our little part to save the world, we are also setting an example for schools all over the state and the country," added Teitler. "We will be saving the school district money that would have been spent on energy and can now be used for education."

RFHS Principal Drew Adams praised teachers Wendy Boland at Roaring Fork and Michael Logan from Carbondale Middle School for inspiring the students to think big when it comes to creating a lasting memory.

"Roaring Fork High School is not a typical high school," Adams said. "The energy club and these students have bestowed a wonderful gift to the community, and one that will keep on giving."

Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot, a RFHS alum and now a parent of two students there, said the solar array will help bolster the town's 2020 energy targets.

"This is quite a feat … and I can't wait to see what you go on to do and what you bring back to our community and to the world," Bernot said to the students who were involved with the project.

Added Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Diana Sirko, "We hear a lot of questions in society about who our kids are today. You are a shining example of who our kids are, and I want to thank you."

Scott Ely, who owns Carbondale-based Sunsense Solar, said the array is awaiting some final testing by Xcel Energy before it goes live.

Once active, the array is expected to generate 385 kilowatts of power during daylight hours, according to Garfield Clean Energy, the inter-governmental organization administered by CLEER that helped with the project.

Over the course of a year, the array is expected to produce nearly 613,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity. That's comparable to the electricity used in a year by 85 homes.

The RFHS array is the third of three large solar arrays installed in Garfield County by Sunsense over the past two years. A similar-sized array at the Silt water treatment plant was turned on in January 2015, and an array powering the Battlement Mesa Metro District water plant went live in November.

Together, the three arrays have added 1 megawatt of local electrical generation capacity, according to Garfield Clean Energy.