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Hiland Hall school lowered its energy bill by more than half within the first month of having solar arrays installed after receiving one of Green Mountain Power's non-profit solar initiative grants. In August 32 nine-kilowatt solar modules were placed on the south facing roof. Within a month, the electric bill went from over $100 to $13, according to Meg Cottam, school director. The grant amounted to $14,000 and the project was made possible by Power Guru in North Bennington. Some of the company's' installation team spoke to students on Nov. 3 to explain how solar energy and a module works. "It's really appropriate to start with something as simple as wires and a battery," Cottam said. "I think it helped bring pretty abstract concepts down to a visual and digestible level for the kids." The team brought in a module for the children to see because the ones installed are not visible from the front of the building. They also pulled up the website that the energy use can be monitored from. The school's annual electric usage is about 9,000kWh and their bill is about $2,000 per year, said Bhima Nitta from Power Guru. "The 9kW solar photovoltaic system is designed to meet 100 percent of their electric bill," Nitta said. "[Each panel has] power optimizers underneath to maximize production under all conditions." There was talk of the school installing a cold climate heat pump and heat pump water heaters in the future, that holds to be true, Nitta said the use of oil would be eliminated and the electric use could rise to 5,000kWh per year. On Tuesday, a representative from Vermont Energy Education Program is providing further curriculum support for children to understand the alternative energy source in its entirety. Otherwise, Cottam said integration of the subject into the general curriculum is ongoing and the students are responsive. Last year Hiland Hall underwent renovations to make its building more sustainable by adding more insulation, replacing windows, switching to LED light bulbs, replacing a 20 year old ceiling and replacing sheetrock. The project was part of a Efficiency Vermont retrofit program. To compensate for less sunlight in the winter time, Cottam said modifications might be made to a tree line. "Each module can work independently," she said. "It really maximizes the potential for each panel and we don't know yet what that output will be. We'll continue to monitor the panel production and see how they're doing and see how we can maximize that alternative source of power." Cottam said that there would be consideration to add more modules, but right now it's all about balance. Nitta said the installed system is designed for expansion and "can be increased in size by about 4kW to meet the additional usage." Reach staff writer Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471 or @MC_McGeeney.


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