Savings from the sun

New solar array at local Montessori school

Principal Tammie Stockton stands under one of the new solar arrays—and pick up areas—at her school.

Principal Tammie Stockton stands under one of the new solar arrays—and pick up areas—at her school.

Photo/Sage Leehey

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A new 210-kilowatt solar array made of 780 panels at High Desert Montessori Charter School’s Silverada Boulevard building is expected to cut the building’s power bills in half.

The solar panels create covered parking for employees and parents and also cover part of their playground, allowing for students to eat at outdoor tables in the shade. The array was installed by local nonprofit Black Rock Solar and was funded through an NV Energy rebate of $700,000 plus $44,000 from the school. Principal Tammie Stockton said she’s excited for more students to be exposed to solar panels and green living on a daily basis.

“This is what we promote as a school and as a community,” Stockton said. “And so the students see it firsthand. They see it in action. We’re not just talking about it. We’re actually doing it.”

Prior to the construction of the 210-kilowatt array, the school already had an 80-kilowatt array at their Oravada Street building. The savings they saw from these panels were part of the motivation to build the new array.

Stockton said solar energy just becomes a fact of life for her students and has already seen that displayed in research projects sixth graders complete. Many of the projects revolve around green living and sustainability, and she believes these panels contribute to students’ interest in those topics.

“I’m sure, as time goes on, students are going to be going home to their families and asking why they don’t have solar panels on their homes,” Stockton said. “It just makes sense. We live here in Northern Nevada. We get so much sunshine throughout the year. Why aren’t we doing this here? I hope that’s the kind of conversations that my students are having when they go back to their families and back to their communities.”

While construction was going on, the school also had some necessary property improvements—new asphalt, fencing, striping, etc.—that was paid for with a $100,000 loan. Stockton said the energy bill savings from the solar panels will make it easy for the school to make their loan payments and start redirecting funds to other projects around the school, like an organic garden at their Silverada Boulevard building. They currently have two hoop houses at the Oravada Street building as well. Students are also developing their own ideas that could later become reality, like rooftop gardening and a bee farm.

“In a Montessori School, we really want the ideas to come from the students and so [the organic garden] has been a conversation for a couple of years now at our school as far as what would it look like, who would be involved, how would that type of project take off,” Stockton said.

The location for the garden has already been planned out and will be easily accessible to the middle schoolers, who will be doing most of the work on it. At this time, it’s just a portion of the parking lot that doesn’t have new asphalt on it, but Stockton says they hope to have it up and running soon.

The school uses some of the vegetables grown in the hoophouses in its lunch program and culinary program so students can see the whole cycle of seed to table, but Stockton has high hopes for the future of the garden.

“Our goal—one day—is to have a sustainable lunch program that we take care off all parts of it,” Stockton said. “And the students would be heavily involved in that, in the preparation, in the shopping, in the gardening that goes along with that, the serving, all of that. … It will probably take us a while to get there, but that is a goal for us to have that program be sustainable just within our school.”