Ever since Tom Pedersen, a science teacher at Capital High School, had solar panels installed on his home in 2010, he’s been thinking about how great it would be to put solar on the school. “I believe in teaching stewardship to my students,” says Tom, and “we have a great flat roof on the gym that [I realized] could be a power plant for the school.”
When the school gym was slated for a new roof in 2014, the timing was right.
Tom worked with Jack Isbell, owner of Solar Montana in Helena, to secure funding from NorthWestern Energy’s Universal Systems Benefit program to cover the cost of the panels and installation. The school contributed thousands of dollars worth of engineering and structural work to make the project happen.
Jack explains that the fact that the gym was being re-roofed was big benefit. By allowing the solar panels to be installed with optimal orientation and spacing, it increased the ultimate energy production of the system.
The solar array was installed by Solar Montana with subcontractors Eagle Electric and Diamond Construction, and it began providing solar energy to Capital High in January 2015. The array is equipped with a full weather station, collecting data that students and the public can access in real time via a public web page developed by Bill Kaiser, technology teacher at the school. A kiosk will soon be added in the school’s main lobby to display real-time data from the system, and the data will be used in Capital High science and math classrooms.
Tom encourages other schools to look into solar: “I’d love to see every school possible have something like this.” He points out that in addition to the educational benefits for students, “it would be great for taxpayers to see how it reduces the school’s electric bills.”