By Christina Harper HBJ Freelance Writer
ARLINGTON — Looking up at the outstretched wing tip of the grand bald eagle fixed to the side of John C. Larson Stadium at Arlington High School, it might surprise some people to know that beyond the feathers lies a recently completed clean, renewable energy site.
Arlington High School has taken advantage of Snohomish County PUD’s voluntary Planet Power green energy program by installing solar panels on the roof of the stadium.
“We are excited to be the recipient of a PUD Planet Power grant and to be bringing a solar energy project to Arlington,” said Sid Logan, executive director of operations for the Arlington School District.
The project will help educate students and the public about solar energy while producing planet-friendly power for years to come, Logan said.
Eight-kilowatt solar units were fitted on top of the stadium. The five rows of panels will produce direct-current power and newly installed inverters will convert electricity to alternating current.
The power produced will reduce energy costs for the school district and for taxpayers, and will be used at the school and stadium. Schools in session have a high energy load, but during summer months or at night solar energy goes back to the grid to benefit other users.
The installation cost for the Arlington High School project was funded mostly by PUD’s Planet Power grant.
In addition, the power data collected from the stadium building will be used as a teaching tool when Arlington High students connect with other schools in Snohomish County, including Granite Falls High School, Park Place Middle School in Monroe and Sultan High School via an interactive webpage. Students will share and monitor solar panel performance with other schools.
Having local businesses in the area with solar expertise brings a sense of community to projects such as the one at Arlington High School. The panels were purchased through Silicon Energy, a local photovoltaic module manufacturer whose headquarters are in Marysville.
The Arlington High School panel installation was a large job for Ben Miracle, a commercial journeyman electrician with Arlington Electric, the company responsible for fitting the panels.
“It’s different on composite roofs” and those built with other materials, Miracle said. “But the components are the same.”
Even with gray and rainy weather, the Pacific Northwest provides a surprisingly good climate for solar power energy.
“The largest solar producing nation is Germany,” Miracle said. “Their weather is no better than ours.”
For those who believe that hot climates produce more power for green energy, Miracle says that desert dust settling on solar panels does cause problems.
“Dust impedes performance,” Miracle said. “The rain here washes it away.”
Arlington Electric priced the job for Arlington High School to see that the school got the most kilowatts for the dollar.
“The modules produce more wattage,” said Joan Tilton, president of Arlington Electric. The John C. Larson Stadium has good solar access, its roof is flat and has no shading. To have buildings facing due south is optimum.
From grant application to finished plan, the solar power project took only a few months. The application was filed in early spring with the notice to proceed in September. The job was completed mid-November.
Tilton acknowledges the increase in solar power demand throughout the U.S. as private customers ask if fitting solar panels will put money in their pocket. It does when homeowners take advantage of loans and tax credits through programs like Solar Express, which offers an incentive to people who want to have solar panels on their own property, said Leslie Moynihan, program manager with Snohomish County PUD.
Snohomish County businesses and residential customers support Planet Power. The PUD makes it easy for interested customers to add $3 to their utility bill specifically for Planet Power projects. Planet Power has awarded 21 grants since its founding in 2009.
“In 2012 we awarded six grants,” Moynihan said. “It’s not just energy production but education.”
To contact Joan Tilton at Arlington Electric, call 360-403-0515 or go to www.arlingtonelectric.com.