By Timothy Rath Email the author May 19, 2011
As Natalie Davenport returned home recently to West Bloomfield after finishing her first year at Michigan State University, she saw the fruits of two years of labor for the first time.
Davenport, a 2010 graduate of West Bloomfield High School, is one of many former members of the school’s environmental club who were expected to be present at this morning's ribbon cutting of a tracking solar array, which was installed in January next to the football field.
The school’s environmental club sponsor, physics teacher Joshua Barclay, said that the 3.2-kilowatt system, the largest of its kind in Metro Detroit, was made possible through $17,000 raised by the club as well as funds from Energy Works Michigan, The Mel L. Barclay Energy Education Fund and more than 100 private donations.
“My junior year, we planned an awesome earth fair and did a lot of petitioning and paper work that made the project possible in my senior year,” Davenport said via e-mail. “We spent time getting students, teachers, community members, businesses owners, and board members involved so that the whole community was a part of the project.”
The club’s work is paying big dividends for the environment. The solar array will generate approximately 6,000 kilowatt hours of electrical energy annually, enough to offset 6,000 pounds of coal generation, and prevent 12,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the environment. Barclay said that that’s enough to power an energy-efficient home, or two to three fully equipped classrooms.
“While it's true that we are not powering the whole school with this array, it is more of a symbol,” said Davenport, who is studying environmental biology and zoology with hopes of eventually working in the field of marine conservation. “Every day, there are thousands of people the drive by the array, and the subtle hint that a high school is doing this, might plant the seed for some home owners to do the same.”
Barclay said that the array, which began construction Nov. 23, has been an “incredible” teaching tool for his students to take home for their families.
“For one-hundredth of the cost of an array, you can improve your energy bills by improving your insulation and lightbulbs. It’s giving us an inroads to start that conversation,” he said. “This is here, this is today. What I want to know is whether more investments will be made by Americans into this type of project or not.”
Davenport said that project gave her a “starting place” to become involved in environmental education as well as community building, which has led to a board position at MSU’s Greenpeace organization. “If a random person notices that my lights are changed, it might encourage them to change their lights, and maybe even recycle. It's a contagious, and chain effect,” she said.
Indeed, people have noticed. WBHS’ electronic marquee has noted the kilowatt hours saved every month since the array began generating power Feb. 3, and Barclay hopes that many more students become involved as a result.
“The kids who got the most out of this so far were the kids involved in fundraising, project development, and publicity. Now that is they have come together, next year, is when we’re going to have it full bore, involving the students in the day-to-day operations of the array,” he said.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. near the array. Following the ceremony, the Annual Earth Fair was planned for Thursday during all lunch periods. Activities were to include a jungle moon bounce, pitch burst, handprint tree, recycled bottle toss, fish catch, cake walk, electric bike, bake sale, name the endangered species game, petitions, and henna body painting.