When Lone Rock School first opened its doors in 1885, the founders probably wouldn't have predicted that it would last for 126 years, let alone that someday the energy of the sun would be harnessed to help power the school.
The oldest continuously run school district in the state, Lone Rock School held a celebration under blue skies on Monday to show off its new 4.3-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on the roof the gymnasium.
The system, which was installed with a "Solar 4R Schools Project" grant from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation in partnership with the Ravalli County Electric Co-Op, has been producing electricity for the school since the end of March. It's been a cloudier spring than usual, but the south-facing solar panels, which were installed by Victor-based Sunelco, have already started to make a dent in the district's energy bill.
As part of the installation, the school also received an informational kiosk located in the front hallway that provides a digital display readout of the panels' energy production, as well as weather and temperature data. The school also received approximately $10,000 in solar-and-wind-related science kits that provide hands-on learning opportunities for students, and the Lone Rock staff received special training on how to integrate the science kits into lesson plans.
On Monday, a group of Lone Rock Elementary School students were given a crash course in reading the kiosk and breaking down the data.
Fifth-grader Dylan Petrucelli pointed out how on certain sunny days last week, the energy produced by the cells jumped quite a bit, and showed a bar graph of the days when the system produced the most electricity.
"The electricity from the solar panel mixes with the electricity from the power plant," classmate Matthew Kleinjan explained. He's right: On cloudier days, the school gets power from the power company, and on sunny days the system can actually kick power back to the grid.
Lone Rock superintendent David Cluff said the goal all along was to make the project a learning experience for the students.
"We want our students to become very learned in the sciences," he said. "Especially energy, and the science behind new forms of energy. We also wanted to get this up and running before the kids left for summer vacation."
Lone Rock was only the second school in the state to launch a solar power initiative, behind the Townsend School District.
"It's a very good pilot project to give energy education to the school, not only to have the solar system, but for classes to come," said Jim Maunder, member services manager at Ravalli Electric Co-Op. "They're going to learn about the interaction of green power in the grid. They also have the opportunity, for years to come, to incorporate curriculum in the classroom. It's a win-win for everyone, and it was a collaborative effort."
Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.