Students learn while helping college install its solar panels |

Students learn while helping college install its solar panels

Mike McKibbinColorado Mountain CollegePost IndependentGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Colorado Mountain College solar installation students Kurt NcNeil, Roberto Gomez and Don Ryan (L-R) work to secure some of the 429 solar panels that supply a quarter of the electricity to the college's campus in Rifle. Photo Mike McKibbin

RIFLE, Colorado – Students at Colorado Mountain College in Rifle will not only use energy generated from solar panels when they turn on their classroom computers. Some of them helped get the system working.Five students in solar installation classes at the Rifle campus recently spent a week helping crews from Sunsense of Carbondale, a solar installation company, get the 103 kilowatt system in the ground. Student Jason Perpich of Rifle said he plans to use the skills he learned while installing the solar panels.”You hear how Rifle wants to put itself in the forefront of sustainability and I think this is the right place to do it,” he said. “I think I can use what I learned doing this to help give people an overall picture about solar power.”Fellow student Roberto Gomez of New Castle said the experience would greatly help him as he earns his solar photovoltaic certificate at Colorado Mountain College. “Every job was different,” he said. “We helped set up the panels, then we helped with the electrical wiring. Part of it was repetition, but they went up fast. It was great hands-on experience.”Solar instructor Chris Ellis called the hands-on training the students received “a living lab.””Instead of reading the code book, they were out there seeing how it all came together,” he said. “They get a great understanding of how it actually works.”

Learning opportunities will continue for others, as well. Students and campus visitors will be able to view and monitor the system on a large computer screen, said Joe Gugelman, maintenance manager at the campus. “The kilowatts generated and used, carbon footprint data and overall savings are just a portion of the data available,” he said. “This will also serve as an educational tool that can be used in the classroom by instructors and students alike.”The ground-mounted system will produce about a quarter of the campus’s electricity from 429 American-manufactured Sharp solar panels. It was financed through a solar power purchase agreement between the college and Hybrid Energy Group of Denver. The company owns the system and the college purchases the electricity it produces at a set rate per kilowatt-hour. The project was also funded with a commercial loan from the Rifle branch of Alpine Bank.”We are thrilled that these solar panels will provide power to our campus,” said Nancy Genova, a college vice president and chief executive officer of the Rifle campus. “In addition to conserving energy and developing programs in green building and sustainability, this is one more of the steps we’d hoped to take when our president signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.”By doing our homework and locating partners like HEG and Sunsense, we’ve found a fiscally prudent way to tap into power from the sun,” said Genova.

In related news, Colorado Mountain College was one of 15 community colleges in the state to be selected to share a three-year $17.3 million grant to help train workers for high-wage, high-skill jobs in growing industries including clean energy, mining, water-quality management and oil and gas. Colorado Mountain College’s $1.1 million share of the grant will allow the college to take a leadership role in making one of its clean energy programs more accessible statewide.”We’ll adapt our solar and instrumentation curriculum for a hybrid format, with lectures online and labs in person,” said Renee Kuharski, the college’s assistant vice president of academic affairs for career and technical education. “Students in other parts of our district and the state can take courses we offer in Rifle,” she added. “We’ve had success with a similar hybrid format for our medical assistant program, and are pleased to expand both this model and our in-demand solar and instrumentation program.”The funds will go toward hiring faculty, administrators and staff, as well as buying equipment such as a solar system and mobile training lab.”We’re very excited about this opportunity to meet increased community demand for job training in green energy, to continue growing our sustainability programs and to partner with other community colleges in the state to increase options for learning,” Kuharski said.

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