School seeks permission for solar power

Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust manager Scott Willis explains how solar power works to...
Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust manager Scott Willis explains how solar power works to Waitati School pupils Sylvia Beaumer (7) and Tamati Whitaker (8). Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Waitati School hopes to capitalise on the 2000 annual sunshine hours that gleam down on Otago each year by installing solar panels to generate its own electricity.

Principal Heidi Hayward said the school's board of trustees had officially asked the Ministry of Education for permission to establish solar power generation at the school, and was awaiting a response.

If the project was approved, the school would be the first in Otago to operate using solar power, Miss Hayward said.

The school has proposed spending up to $20,000 on the project, but Miss Hayward said it would pay for itself in a very short time.

The school spends about $7000 a year on electricity, and it was believed the solar panels would generate enough electricity to cover most of that cost.

Any electricity that was left over - such as the electricity generated at weekends and on summer evenings when pupils were not at school - could be sold back to the grid, she said.

''It's a no-brainer, really.

''That's money we can spend on the kids' education.''

Although the school is waiting for ministry permission to go ahead with the project, it hopes to experience the benefits of solar power as soon as September, thanks to the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust.

The trust operates its office in the school's former dental clinic and is raising funds to install six 1.5kw solar panels on its roof so it can generate its own electricity.

Trust manager Scott Willis said each panel could generate 1.5kw of electricity an hour on a sunny day, and any surplus electricity would be given to the school.

''The electricity we produce will primarily be used here in the office. But of course, on a sunny day, we can't use all the electricity, no matter how much we try.

''So the excess will be used by the school.''

He believed the excess electricity from the panels could save the school hundreds of dollars on its electricity bill each year.

The panels had already been bought, but the $1600 needed to install the panels and related equipment, was still being raised, Mr Willis said.

It was hoped the panels would be operational and generating electricity by the beginning of next month.

''We are desperate to have them up in time for the Waitati School sesquicentennial in September,'' he said.

The project is just one of many the trust is working on, including the construction of a community wind farm, involvement in Cosy Homes, climate change planning, and home performance assessments.

The Green Party announced last month it would invest $20 million over three years, to help about 500 schools across the country install solar power and save money on their power bills.

Green Party energy spokesman Gareth Hughes said it would result in 6.7MW of total installed capacity and achieve annual savings of $1.64 million over the 25-year lifespan of the panels.

''Solar in Schools has the added benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and educating students, staff and the wider community about energy efficiency and clean energy.''

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