Soaking up the sun: Solar panels on AHS annex building will help power the school

Published 10:31 am Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kate Soiney, the head of the Austin High School Go Green Club stands with the new solar array on top of the Austin High School’s annex building Tuesday.  Eric Johnson/

Kate Soiney, the head of the Austin High School Go Green Club stands with the new solar array on top of the Austin High School’s annex building Tuesday.  Eric Johnson/

A student group is tapping the sun in an effort to guide Austin High School to a brighter and greener future.

An array of solar panels have been laid out on the roof of the annex building across Fourth Street from the school. The setup is connected to the high school power grid. The system feeds into the school’s power grid and will help power everything the school needs to power.

“They collect the sun’s energy and convert it into usable energy,” teacher and Go Green club leader Kate Soiney said. “And it’s being fed directly into our grid at the high school.”

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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. The 10-kilowatt system was installed on Monday and connected to the high school power grid on Wednesday.

The group, consisting of four students and Soiney, has been fundraising for three years to get the panels installed.

“It just took a little while to get the ball rolling,” Soiney said. “It wasn’t until this last year that we saw a lot of groups stepping forward to donate, because the project was closer to completion.”

The idea started with four students in a club, but it has expanded and many members of the school and community have decided to help out.

“We’ve had really, really good feedback and a lot of help,” Soiney said. “[Katie Baskin] has really stepped up and is 100 percent behind the project. It’s just nice to see that at the administrative level there’s support.”

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

“We wanted a little buffer in there in case things cost extra, but the money we do have left over will go toward the green house and potentially saving up and getting more panels,” Soiney said.

Soiney, a biology and chemistry teacher at Austin High School, is excited about the project.

“I’m excited to see it become part of kids’ every day life, and hopefully see not just kids but the community too,” Soiney said.

Though the group chose to put up solar panels, Soiney said she is a fan of any kind of renewable energy.

“Any kind of renewable energy is the way of the future and it needs to become a part of kids’ every day life,” Soiney said. “Solar is great because it’s fairly durable, and even when it’s a cloudy day it’s still collecting energy.”

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.

Soiney is excited for the future, and said while they are happy with what has already been done, they may add more panels to the system as time goes on.

“It’s definitely going to save money,” Soiney said. “Every little bit helps.”

But the project isn’t finished. According to Soiney, the group will keep track of how much energy is being converted by the sun. They will look at the utility bill, look online, or at the school’s meter to track the energy levels.

Soiney said it isn’t only about being energy efficient, though. It’s about letting students know when they see the panels that people care enough to put the panels up and make it a part of the curriculum.

Soiney said Mat Miller has also been a big help in the project. But the school hasn’t been the only support.

Many community members also donated money, time or materials for the project, for which the club is very thankful.

“It started with an idea from a small group,” Soiney said. “We still made a pretty big change by making connections with people that can help us.”