LAPS expects $250,000 for solar project

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Los Alamos schools are among 15 districts to receive federal stimulus funds

By Kirsten Laskey

Fifty-kilowatts may seem like a tiny spark of energy, but generated through solar photovoltaic electric systems, the benefits light up in a hurry.

Los Alamos Public Schools is among 15 New Mexico school districts picked to receive federal stimulus funds to build ground-base photovoltaic solar electric array systems.

A total of $4.5 million will be awarded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment State Energy Program.

While official notice of the grant has not been received, Superintendent Gene Schmidt said he expects to get between $250,000-$300,000 to install the electric system on San Idelfonso Road and Hawk Drive by Los Alamos Middle School.

Once that official notice is given, Schmidt said the school district will work with the Los Alamos County Planning and Zoning committee to determine the best way to handle the project.

The work may not have started yet but the benefits of the project are greatly anticipated.

The energy savings is one advantage. Schmidt estimated there will be $6,000-$12,000 in savings.

Plus, it serves a great educational opportunity for the community to learn benefits of solar energy and promote energy awareness. Through this project, Schmidt said, students can study what is more effective, fixed panels or single-tracking panels that move as the sun moves, as well as what is more beneficial - the morning sun or the afternoon sun.

“There are a lot of ways you can use to track energy data,” he said.

Schmidt said the middle school also earned a $15,000 mini grant to pose questions about energy in the future. Having the solar photovoltaic electric system will increase the level of understanding about energy, he said.  One of the activities will focus on “Schools Going Solar,” where students learn about variables that affect the performance of photovoltaic system: questions such as when is the time of day for peak solar electric output or does the time of year affect solar electric output?

The project may also expand students’ awareness of career opportunities.

“There are kids who are interested in what careers are tied to these energy opportunities,” Schmidt said.

A local jobs boost may also be in the future. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act strives to create jobs and encourages to hiring local or state workers.

 The school district is not the only organization seeing the light from this project.

“The role that PEEC played is we partner with the LASE Network or Los Alamos Sustainable Energy Network,” said Becky Shankland, vice president of the Pajarito Environmental Education Center.

They meet at PEEC once a month and it was there that Schmidt found out about the grant.

“So when he told us about the possibility of getting the grant we were just delighted because it is a way for the schools to lead the way in being environmentally conscious and to show how solar energy can be used to help with reducing carbon footprint,” Shankland said.

Schmidt credits the strong community support for clean energy education as a catalyst for the grant proposal.

“Our proposal,” he said, “would not be possible with out the cooperation of the county, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the school system. The number of volunteer grant writers from our community was very helpful.”