Stanwood students earn grant to power farm equipment with solar panel

STANWOOD — Writing the grant application was the most rigorous project seniors Cory Calkins and Scott Weisse figure they accomplished in high school.

It may be the most satisfying as well.

Stanwood High School’s agriculture department plans this week to start using its new $14,500 solar panel to power its greenhouses and labs.

Cory and Scott, both 17, were instrumental in obtaining funding for the solar panel through a grant from Snohomish County Public Utility District and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

The 1,360-watt solar panel has unobstructed eastern, southern and western sunlight exposure, and was erected during the summer in the agriculture compound on the high school campus.

The solar panel will help nursery plants grow by providing additional light and heat in two greenhouses and power the tank equipment for 10,000 juvenile salmon in the aquaculture laboratory. The other goal for the new energy source is public education.

“We plan to use the panel as a platform for telling students and community members how solar energy works and what its advantages are,” agriculture and natural resources teacher Ryan Ovenell said. “We’ll offer a community tour later this fall.”

The Stanwood High School Sustainable Power Project received grant money from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation because it fit with the organization’s goals to support energy education and fisheries restoration, spokesman Ben Stuart said. The foundation also provides educational materials and real-time data monitoring for the project, he said.

“We love to see students involved and that’s at the core of our Solar4RSchools program,” Stuart said. “The students at Stanwood did the hard work for this project, and it was a perfect fit for the foundation because of their aquaculture lab.”

The PUD provided the technical support for the solar-electric project, with funding from the Planet Power program, PUD spokesman Neil Neroutsos said.

Last fall, Cory and Scott were looking for a project for their natural resources class and found the grant application through the PUD. They researched how solar power works and found a solar panel suitable for the ag complex, Cory said.

“It was a grueling, intense process,” said Scott of the grant application. “We worked on it during school, after school, before school. Our folks were surprised that we would be so determined to get it done.”

Agriculture teacher Ryan Ovenell wasn’t surprised.

“Scott and Cory are dedicated to whatever they set their minds to. I let them walk through the process,” Ovenell said. “They did all the math and suffered all the trials. They handled it just fine. I knew they would.”

Along with Cory and Scott, fellow senior natural resources student Sara Schlicker worked on the educational portion of the grant application, Ovenell said.

After the finding out they had been awarded the grant, the students then launched into applying for building permits and scheduling site inspections. In the summer, a crew of about 25 ag students dug the trenches for the power cables from the solar panel to the buildings. Landscaping around the panel is ongoing this week.

“This has been an exceptional project,” Ovenell said. “Anything that gets students tied into industry, government and a career path is a good idea.”

Scott plans to earn a degree in agricultural business at Washington State University. Cory wants to attend a school for electrical linemen and hopes to return to Snohomish County to work with the PUD.

“Our project was exciting, but solar power still remains expensive,” Cory said. “The increasing production of solar power systems eventually will make it more affordable.”

In the meantime, the boys said they’re happy the project is done.

“We left our mark on the ag complex,” Scott said. “It’s something great that we did before we graduated.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

Green power

Learn more about Snohomish County PUD’s renewable energy projects by calling 425-783-1700. Learn more about Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s schools program at www.solar4rschools.org.

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