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Helena High solar panels will help power school, provide educational opportunities

Helena High solar panels will help power school, provide educational opportunities

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Helena High School’s power bill should see a slight decrease thanks to solar panels being installed this week on the roof of the school. While the savings will be nice, officials hope the panels will have some educational value as well.

Four departments at the school — English, science, math and theater — received two grants to complete the project at the school, which includes a 4.7-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system, sensors on the roof to collect data, and a station with monitors located in the hallway for use as a teaching tool.

English teacher Jill Van Alstyne said cutting back on the school’s power usage is great but what she really likes the project’s teaching potential.

“From my perspective, the main reason is to educate people about what is possible,” she said.

The system will collect information about intensity of the sun, the energy produced and weather data, which will be displayed in a kiosk where students and staff can see what’s happening.

“Every time they walk down the hall they’ll think about it,” Van Alstyne said.

The Green Group, a student club working to promote environmental awareness, received $18,000 from Northwestern Energy for the system on the roof and $3,000 for the indoor solar station came from the Helena Education Foundation.

The solar and weather technology integrates into curriculums, Van Alstyne says, because students will interact with data and can determine what percentage of school energy consumption can be fed with the solar energy system, compare energy use over seasons and years, compute cost savings and compare solar costs to other sources like coal, hydro and wind.

Jack Isbell, owner of Solar Montana and a 2000 HHS graduate, is installing the system with the help of Rob Holter. Holter is an HHS English teacher who is donating his time as part of work towards an energy technology certificate through the University of Montana.

“This is excellent experience,” he said, standing on the roof earlier this week. “It’s one of the areas where you have to apprentice with someone who knows what they are doing.”

Isbell said the system should generate enough energy to power a single-family home.

Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081, or


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