Lt. Governor Cooney comes to RLHS for Green Award

By Eleanor Guerrero
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Photos by Eleanor Guerrero

Lt. Governor Mike Cooney presents a check for $1,000 to Jasper Poore (foreground) as other Green Team students (background left to right) Ana Rubie, Barla Beaudoin and Ava Graham are awarded for their energy efforts for a fourth straight year.

On Thursday, Lt. Governor Mike Cooney came to Red Lodge High School (RLHS) to present the school with the 2017-2018 SMART (Saving Money and Resources Today) Schools Challenge Award. RLHS was one of only 13 Montana public schools recognized by Governor Steve Bullock and Lt. Gov. Cooney. Bullock issued a statement saying, "We are honored to recognize the students who are encouraging energy efficiency, conservation and waste reduction in their schools." The program has only been in existence four years and RLHS has won in some category every year.

Cooney toured the various projects of the Green Team including their chicken coop and recycling and viewed the award winning solar heat panels on the school's roof.

Green Team advisor and Teacher, Kate Belinda, noted that last July, RLHS had its solar array installed. According to the Grant Application submitted by RLHS: “This installation completed a successful journey of fundraising and grant writing by the Green Team. Not only has the installation of solar at the high school improved the amount of money and resources Red Lodge High School saves, but it has also served as a positive example of the effectiveness of renewable energy. To efficiently monitor the impact, the Green Team has collected the monthly electric usage at Red Lodge High School since 2014. The Green Team recorded this data by reviewing past electric bills the school received from NorthWestern Energy. After baseline data had been established, the Green Team worked with a local solar installer to design a system necessary to reduce energy consumption.”

The application states that the Green Team decided on a 16.2 kW, grid-tie Solar PV system to make an impact on energy consumption at the high school. To pay for the system Green Team received a grant for $42,500 from NorthWestern Energy in December of 2015, written by founding member Kryn Dykema. “The Green Team then fundraised throughout the Spring of 2016 and continued earn grants from other organizations throughout the community that included Kids Corner, the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, and a Go Fund Me Page. To meet the final cost of the array at $50,000, the Green Team provided $4,000 and the Red Lodge School District provided $3,500. To monitor energy consumption after solar panel installation, the Green Team uses a program linked to the solar array called Fronius. Also, the Green Team continues to review monthly energy bills from NorthWestern Energy that track electric usage at Red Lodge High School and compare it to the energy being produced by the solar array.”

Belinda said due to the amount of savings on heating bills for the school due to the solar panels, RLHS won the Energy Award.

Cooney toured the latest project, a large greenhouse now filled with plants.

Student Adrianna Pellegato, of Future Farmers of America, discussed how the greenhouse project has been progressing. "I made $250 last year. It is a good learning experience."

The kids buy the plants, set the prices to be paid, pay back costs and keep the extra. Belinda said, "It's a class. The majority of things are part of the curriculum. Growing and caring for the plants and the business/marketing side is unique at RLHS. It's not just one thing, it's a whole experience."

Cooney said, "It is great to be here. I have visited this school 200 times and you continue to do great things.

Belinda said, "This marks the fourth year of the Challenge and Red Lodge has won every year." It is a partnership between the Governor and D.E.Q. An awards ceremony followed in the school lobby. He presented a check for $1,000, adding "I want to come back and make the Smart Schools Energy Challenge Championship award!"  

According to the Energy Award application, the energy savings continue to mount. The total amount of energy the solar array has produced since installation is 11,632 kWh. This amount of energy production is equivalent to saving CO 2 emissions from 974 gallons of gas consumed, 9,741 pounds of burned coal, or the amount of electricity 1.3 homes use in one year (according to https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator ). If 1 kWh costs 12 cents, our solar array has produced $1,395.84 of energy, which is ~40% of the money the Red Lodge School District invested in the project in just 8 months of operation.”

As of July of last year, “the array produced at least 2.92% of the average monthly energy consumption at RLHS and up to 14.84% during July” according to the application.

The Green Team further claims the solar array should begin making money within two years. On Earth Day, April 20th, the Green Team showed the community the progress and energy the array at RLHS has made at the local block party.

The Carnegie Library in Red Lodge is applying for the same grant from NorthWestern Energy that the Green Team received. If awarded, the Green Team looks forward to collecting and analyzing incoming data from two solar arrays with in the community. After this first year of tracking solar production, the Green Team plans to implement some more energy saving tips that were recommended by the Energy Audit conducted by NorthWestern last year.

Cooney and the kids went outside to view the panels. He was also shown two bicycles that are now available at the school for teachers and students, respectively, check out and borrow, complete with helmets, for trips to town.

The bikes will likely also be available during the summer at the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation. Belinda said the details are being worked out now. Each bike is fitted with a GPS chip so they can always be located.  

Cooney told the students, “You've now won in all three categories, Recycling, Energy, and Green and for the next one I challenge you to win the All Around Champion Award." The school has won the Recycling Award once, the Energy Award once (this year) and the Green award twice.

Cooney said "Every time I come I'm totally blown away by what the school is doing. You have a very supportive administration, very supportive teachers and you could not win without a very supportive student body and community. I'm just thrilled. Keep up what you are doing."  

The Carbon County News

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