BAR HARBOR — Students have been active in social and political causes before.
But their recent level of engagement in the issue of climate change is something special, state Rep. Brian Hubbell, said at the celebration of the completion of the solar energy project at Mount Desert Island High School last Wednesday.
“This feels different … to have youth passionately, knowledgeably, durably engaged in the political process,” he said.
“Making substantial change toward climate action [in state government] is in no small part a result of the extraordinary youth voice that has emerged.”
Hubbell pointed to a bill passed by the Legislature this year to make solar power generation more economically viable.
He said the bill was the result of “a long, arduous process to restructure the electric rates to reflect the true benefits of distributed solar generation and the real advantages to our [electric] grid.”
Maine House Speaker Sarah Gideon said that, as a result of that legislation, the high school’s solar array, which originally was expected to save the school about $216,000 over 25 years, will now save an estimated $1 million more than that.
Principal Matt Haney said to rousing cheers from students in the school gym, “The annual carbon offset for this [solar] project is estimated at around 810,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, worth 900,000 miles driven by a passenger vehicle. And the total lifetime estimated offset is 24,320,400 pounds of carbon dioxide.”
The solar array that was installed on the high school’s roof this summer by Sundog Solar consists of 1,450 panels. The power they generate is expected to meet all of the school’s electricity needs.
School Superintendent Marc Gousse said at the solar project celebration, “As proud as I am to be a part of this, I am even prouder of the leadership exhibited by our students in addressing the ideals of sustainability, conservation and stewardship.
“I am proud of the fact that here on Mount Desert Island, we walk our talk and our students are leading the way.”
Gideon told the students and others involved in the solar project, “It is no small thing you have done here. It is an example for every school in the state and the country to follow.”
The project was inspired by Drew Rich, a 2017 graduate of the high school, whose senior exhibition project was a proposal to install a solar array to help meet the school’s electricity needs. The school’s Eco Team helped provide feedback on the bid proposals and the high school trustees approved the project earlier this year.
Sundog installed the solar panels and associated equipment at no cost to the high school. Once the system is up and running, the school will pay Sundog 19 cents per kilowatt hour for the electricity it uses. The school has been paying Emera Maine 17 cents per kilowatt hour for a total of about $110,000 a year.
After seven years, the school will have the option to buy the solar power system from Sundog for $364,500. From then on, the school would pay nothing for the electricity generated.
Haney told the high school trustees at their meeting last Thursday, the day after the celebration, that he hopes the school’s solar project will, indeed, be an example that others follow.
“The impact of this is only going to be as substantial as our ability to share this process with other places,” he said. “I’ve told my principal contacts, ‘If you want to do this, I can walk you through what we did.’ I’m hoping other schools in our district can do it,”
Haney acknowledged that most communities around the state don’t have an organization like A Climate to Thrive, the Mount Desert Island non-profit that was instrumental in supporting the school’s solar project.
Nevertheless, he said, “”I don’t see any reason why this can’t happen across the state of Maine.”