Solar project would generate energy, learning options for Houghton

Vendlinski

HOUGHTON — Houghton students might get a new learning tool, while the building would save money through renewable energy.

Members of the group behind a project to install a solar panel array on the roof of the Houghton High School locker room building spoke at Monday’s Houghton-Portage Township Schools Board meeting.

“We’re just parents and community members who had this idea that we wanted to get the school involved in renewable energy,” said Jim Vendlinski.

Buying and installing the array would cost an estimated $41,900, Vendlinski said. Prospects are good for about $29,000 so far. The River Valley Bank Community Foundation Grant provided $4,000. And the group has applied for a $25,000 grant from the Michigan Energy Office.

The organization has not given final confirmation yet, but were “very positive,” said Superintendent Doreen Kramer.

They are also looking at opportunities for the remaining funds, such as crowdfunding sites or fundraising events.

The motivation is not so much saving the school money as it is educating students about renewable energy, Vendlinski said.

“This would be, to my knowledge, the first large installation like this at any of the public schools around here,” he said. “It would position the school as a leader in the area for renewable energy.”

The group is working with the Copper Country Intermediate School District’s MiSTEM program to find interested teachers and develop a curriculum that would incorporate the panels.

Although the savings wouldn’t be the main point, they would likely exist. An estimate created by Solar Up put the first-year savings at $2,500. Over 25 years, the district would save $115,700, assuming 3 percent annual inflation of electric costs.

Though the panels lose efficiency over time, they do not stop working, said Drew Cramer of Solar Up. After 10 to 20 years, the district would need to replace the hardware that converts direct current electricity to alternating current. The replacement would only cost about $1,500, he said.

The panels would generate about 1 to 2 percent of the building’s electricity needs, he said.

Board members endorsed the project.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Dan Crane, also regional account executive for the Upper Peninsula Power Co. “I like the educational piece as well.”

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