AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — UPDATE (Oct. 2019):
Four more Augusta County schools are now drawing in some renewable energy.
Solar panels are up and operational at Wilson Elementary and Middle, as well as Riverheads Elementary and High schools.
The project is a partnership between Augusta County Public Schools, Secure Futures, Standard Solar, and Dominion. The array cost nothing for the county and is expected to save close to $500,000 over the next 20 years.
Secure Futures also provides training and workshops for teachers in the county.
"They are going to provide us with educational materials for our teachers and training for our teachers so they can pass on this knowledge to our students which we think is very important," said Greg Troxell, director of operations and maintenance for Augusta County Public schools.
Solar panels were first installed at Clymore Elementary School and Fort Defiance High School.
The schools’ solar energy system will have a capacity of 1.8 megawatts, enough energy to power 279 average U.S. homes, making it the largest solar power installation at any institution of education in the Shenandoah Valley.
And it all started with an idea from two Fort Defiance students, who you can learn more about below.
It all started with an idea from two students at Fort Defiance High School, but they never imagined it would become the project it did.
"I would have been happy with just a small solar tree in front of Fort Defiance High School," Elias Nafziger said.
Nafziger and Lizzie Hepler were seniors and co-student government presidents at FDHS when they proposed the idea of solar panels. They brought the idea to their principal, and then the superintendent, where it expanded. Now, there are solar panels at seven schools in Augusta County.
"it's crazy to see just a little idea form into a real-life, tangible thing that you can see," Hepler said, "and you can see working and you can have kids learning about it everyday."
The panels are already saving energy for Fort Defiance High School, Clymore Elementary School, and Cassel Elementary School. Dr. Eric Bond, Augusta County superintendent, says the student involvement sets the project apart.
"I think that's what makes our project in Augusta County so special, it was student led, to a certain degree," Dr. Bond said. "They had an idea as student leaders to try and improve their individual school."
Dr. Bond said it's also a great learning opportunity for the students.
"And it does tie in directly to our curriculum, so I think it enhances that for our students, so that's incredibly important for us, just the educational component."
Right now, this is the largest array of solar panels in a Virginia public school system. The panels will provide 30 percent of the energy the school uses, and is expected to save the school system $500,000 over the next 20 years.
The panels at Riverheads Elementary School, Riverheads High School, Wilson Elementary School and Wilson Middle School are expected to be finished and operating by the end of April.
You can see the live data from the solar panels at the three schools where panels are live online.