Detroit Free Press, March 20, 2011, By: Megha Satyanarayana
Alternative energy projects switch on at several metro Detroit schools
Kacie Mills, 19, left for college before the solar panels she and her friends lobbied for at West Bloomfield High School came to be. Money from fund-raisers was there, but members of the school's environment club, led by Mills, were waiting to hear about a state grant that would boost their project from rooftop to field-side.
Last week, when she was home for spring break, she drove by it and saw the massive panels on a pole by the football field, installed in January. Then she saw on the school's marquee how much energy the array was creating.
Physics teacher Joshua Barclay talks about alternative energy Wednesday at West Bloomfield High School. He said the solar array that was installed in January is the largest of its kind in metro Detroit.
Her old physics teacher, Joshua Barclay, said the 3.2-kilowatt system is the largest of its kind in metro Detroit.
"It was very ambitious -- none of us thought it would happen," Mills said. "I just couldn't stop smiling. It was awesome -- we were working completely against the grain."
West Bloomfield High School is one of several in the area that received grants this academic year from Energy Works Michigan to do renewable energy projects.
On the list are four schools in Detroit, including Cass Technical High School, with a 20-kilowatt array on its roof, said Kelly Weger, Energy Works Michigan project coordinator. Downriver schools that got energy grants are St. Joseph's Catholic School in Wayne, Allen Park Middle School and Brownstown Middle School. Also in Oakland County is a solar array at Upland Hills School in Oxford. And recipients in Macomb County are Romeo Engineering and Technology Center in Washington Township and Steenland Elementary School in Roseville, whose grant paid for a 2.4-kilowatt wind turbine and a 1-kilowatt solar power system.
Funded by the Michigan Public Service Commission, the dollars pay for energy systems that won't necessarily power a whole school, but in the case of the $12,000 that went to the West Bloomfield project, may power a couple of classrooms and bring awareness to alternative energy.
"It's a great tool for teaching science, math and physics," said James Byrnes, a fourth-grade teacher at Steenland who spearheaded its project, also installed a few weeks ago.
Students, parents and the public can monitor how much energy all of the schools are creating at http://energyworksmichigan.powerdash.com . On Thursday, a windy and sunny day, the Steenland solar array produced almost 5 kilowatt-hours of energy and the wind turbine produced 7.5 kWh.
Because the projects are tied into the local energy grid, not just the school benefits. Barclay said households around West Bloomfield High get some of the energy produced. Still, he said, solar and wind projects remain expensive for individuals, and most homes could benefit from energy-saving measures such as more insulation and more efficient light bulbs.
Teachers in metro Detroit are hoping the projects will become cheaper eventually and more practical for their families. Mark Lowe, assistant principal at Allen Park Middle School, said what kids see and learn in school translates to change at home. Their 2.25-kilowatt solar awning hangs over a door. His students made a video showing what they learned about alternative energy.
"The goal is to make not only our kids but (others) via our kids, see that the possibility of moving away from an oil-based, coal-based economy could be a reality," he said.