I’m very pleased to report that our major solar panel installation is well underway (Click here for the press release with all the details).

This is a 140 Kw project, entailing more than 600 panels on six of our major buildings which we have undertaken in a partnership with a Tucson company, Solar H20.   This is an all-Tucson project: the partner utility company is Tucson Electric Power (TEP); the solar panels are manufactured not in China or overseas but right here in Tucson (though by a German company, Solon), and even the racks are manufactured here in town.

Yesterday, I was interviewed by KUAT, Arizona Public Media, for a television news report they are preparing for their weekly television “newsmagazine” show, Arizona Illustrated, about this project. It is my hope and intent to be able to share that news report here soon.

I was asked two main questions, and I thought I would do my best to share and replicate my answers here (in fairness, these written answers are a bit expanded).

Q: Why is St. Gregory undertaking this project? 

A: It has been a high priority of my leadership to embark on alternative energy support for our school, and to not go solar in this Southern Arizona sun seems foolish.   Rick Belding, our business manager, and I had been discussing and seeking opportunities to make this go, (including multiple conversations with Tucson’s Solar energy project manager, Bruce Tunze), when we were approached by a new company, Solar H20, which was ready to seize on certain incentives available from both our local utility, TEP, and the federal government.  After a very thorough review of the contract by Rick Belding, we were ready to commit.

This is a win-win-win project.  It is a win for the school financially: we calculate we will save at least $1000 a month, and because our rate is capped, if energy prices rise (and doesn’t it seem likely they will?), we will save even more.   It is a win for the utility, which needs these alternative energy credits, and for the local construction and manufacturing companies which will generate the equivalent of several work-years in jobs right her in our hometown, a town suffering problematic underemployment in the recession.  The planet will “win” by the dramatic reduction in our carbon footprint, a number I don’t have yet but which our mathematics students will be calculating thoroughly this fall.

Most importantly, perhaps, for us as an educational institution, we believe our students will “win.” Our educational mission and priorities include ensuring our students develop their character, and particularly so in taking responsibility for their community and planet.   We also have a commitment to see our students develop the mindset and practice of innovation, and to skillfully employ current technologies to creatively and effectively solve problems.   With this solar energy initiative, we as a school and an institution are modelling the qualities and virtues we expect our students to develop, and indeed, we would be failing them if we were not ourselves taking the initiative and making the effort to model these practices.   It is a great value to our educational mission to practice what we preach.

Q:  How will St. Gregory use this new solar installation as a part of the educational program for students?

We expect our teachers and students will use the new solar installation in a wide variety of ways.   Our math classes intend (as above) to calculate the carbon footprint reduction achieved by this new installation, and to create algorithms to consider how that footprint will rise or fall depending on other variables and other energy saving and alternative energy initiatives we undertake as a school community.

Our middle school physical sciences class will study and learn more about how solar energy is generated and transferred with transformers and capacitors.  Our environmental systems class will conduct a lengthy solar unit, considering the solar energy pros and cons, costs and benefits, and having first hand example will illuminate this greatly.  They  expect also to scrutinize closely the solar panel monitors as they display the flux of energy being generated on a daily basis, and seek to determine what factors, such as the panel angles, the length of the day, and the angle of the sun, change the solar energy generation and how.

Finally, and most importantly and excitingly, our Design/Build Technology Innovation students will study very closely the mechanics, electronics, and physics of the installation and take lessons and inspiration for the various alternative energy construction projects they are themselves constructing.  [I hope and expect to write more this fall to share some of these student learning activities as they happen].



Before I conclude, I should say a word in praise and appreciate to the amazingly hard working construction crew that is installing this project; they are working atop our roofs each and every day in the summer Southern Arizona sun, everyday 100 degrees plus.  Thank you, thank you.