Student Group helps power school through solar panels

Published 7:01 am Sunday, August 31, 2014

Paony Oman, a member of the Austin High School Go Green Club walks past the 40 solar panels on the roof of the annex building Friday afternoon. Eric Johnson/

Paony Oman, a member of the Austin High School Go Green Club walks past the 40 solar panels on the roof of the annex building Friday afternoon. Eric Johnson/

Solar panels have been wired into the grid at the Austin High School thanks to four invested students and their club leader.

“I hope they see that we’re making an effort to be eco-friendly and we’re trying not to put as much pollution and all that waste out into the world, we’re trying to reduce it,” Paony Oman said.

ah.03.31.aPaony, 16, is a junior at Austin High School and a member of the Go Green club. She, along with four other club members, spent time and energy fundraising and working to put solar panels on the roof of the annex building across Fourth Street from the school. The setup is connected to the high school power grid.

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The system feeds into the school’s power grid and will help power everything the school needs to power. The solar panels will add about as much energy as it takes to power one computer lab.

Paony got involved with the Go Green club through her sister and cousin, Akeem Oman and Jukrao Oman.

Although they graduated and are in college now, they along with Paony and group members Alana Bissinger and Pinal Patel, have been working on the solar panels for about three years.

“They did Re-fest and I really liked that, and when I heard they were putting solar panels I wanted to hop on that too,” Paony said. “I hope people find ways to be more eco-friendly because of it.”

Kate Soiney, a biology and chemistry teacher at Austin High School, remembered the first day of putting the panels together.

“They didn’t let us hook anything up, which is probably good,” Soiney said with laugh. “We did a lot of weight lifting on that first day.”

After attending a Youth Empowerment Summit conference in 2011, an annual conference for students interested in eco-friendly things, the group decided to raise funds for their own set of solar panels. Although this is only Paony’s second year in the club, she is excited about it’s bright future. The 10-kilowatt system was installed on Aug. 18 and connected to the high school power grid on Aug. 20.

The group has raised about $26,000 for their project which cost about $22,000 according Soiney.

“If there’s any money left over we’re going to put it into the green roof, repairing, restoring and replanting [it],” Soiney said.

Although the project cost $22,000, it is likely to pay for itself in about six to ten years, according to owner of Austin Electric Chad Carlson

“One thing about doing it is you’re locking in your power rate for the next 20 to 30 years. People do it all the time with fuel, farmers in particular, for the season, where here you can lock in your electrical rate for the next 20-30 years,” Carlson said.

The project has gotten support from many different places, including Austin Administration and high school Principal Katie Baskin.

“I think for us the educational opportunities across the curriculum is outstanding,” Baskin said. “Whether it be an area of science, math, social studies in terms of historical perspectives, I think the curriculum can be so enriched by something that may be interpreted as small but truly is having an impact on much more than just one computer lab.”

The project has gained support from the community also, with many community members donating time, supplies or money to the project.

“It’s still newer technology, I think any time you have something like that, people are interested to learn and be a part of something, and obviously something that we all feel and know enough of that’s it’s a good thing if it works, instead of the traditional way of creating electricity,” Carlson said.

But the project isn’t finished. According to Soiney, the group will keep track of how much energy is being converted by the sun.

“We’re going to look back at whatever the cost for utilities was the last couple of months, the last year, and then we’re going to compare,” Soiney said. “That’s one way we’re going look at it.”

There is also a production meter tracking the energy the panels have produced and what it’s put out in kilowatts.

The group has several different projects, including a recycling program for paper, plastic, aluminum cans and cell phones, as well as helping build a greenhouse on the roof of the annex.