The Student News Site of Fauquier High School

The Falconer

The Student News Site of Fauquier High School

The Falconer

The Student News Site of Fauquier High School

The Falconer

Group Proposes Adding Solar Panels to FHS Roof

Green energy may soon come to Fauquier’s oldest high school as a local environmental group draws up plans
Provided by The Eyrie
The pictured solar panels, shown in 1975, were installed as part of a project by the Department of Energy before being subsequently removed.

In 1974, when solar power was in its early stages of development, FHS was a frontrunner in the implementation of the new technology. As proudly touted in the 1975 edition of the Eyrie, the school’s yearbook, “Fauquier is the proud owner of the only operating solar heating panel in the country, bringing immediate recognition to our small school.” Spanning the length of the hill next to the football field behind the buildings that are now the gyms, the experimental panels were part of a study conducted by the Department of Energy to measure the feasibility of implementing solar power as an energy source. Now, the solar panels may be making a return to FHS, as the Fauquier Climate Change Group spearheads the process of data collection and planning for a rooftop solar panel installation. However, this time, the solar panels would likely mainly reside on the school’s roofs.

AP United States Government teacher David Smith remembers the old panels, saying, “They were experimental panels, and they were supposed to be used to heat the modular classrooms in the trailers. We had a few of them….they worked a little bit, but not as well as they wanted.” However, those panels were removed in 1980 because of their lack of power efficiency and “accidents with baseballs” that damaged them.

The process to install rooftop solar panels is both complex and expensive, but it is one that Kevin O’Neill, Director of the Fauquier Climate Change Group, is endeavoring to accomplish for as many of the county schools and administrative buildings as possible. The Fauquier Climate Change Group is a volunteer-based organization that was created 12 years ago with an educational goal. They are responsible for the ‘energy bike’ that has traveled to First Fridays in Old Town Warrenton and schools around the county, used to teach students and adults alike about efficient energy and climate change. Besides the obvious benefits of solar power being a sustainable, carbon-neutral source of energy, O’Neill also emphasizes the potentially significant monetary savings rooftop solar panels could create for the county, especially if paired with solar panels on the ground that would boost total power output.

“What we are doing is trying to find a way to keep the electrical cost for the county schools and the county buildings under control and reduce them to save money,” O’Neill explains, “There are 20 counties in the state of Virginia who are already installing rooftop solar in the school…One thing that they’ve learned is that, when they do it, the electricity cost drops.” He also noted that some districts have made a profit off of their solar power, selling excess energy generated by the panels back to the power grid.

Jonathan Kraut, environmental science teacher at FHS, attests to the cost efficacy of solar power, explaining that it is a result of solar’s “self-sufficient” nature. He supports the potential installation of solar panels at FHS, saying, “I think it’s a great idea…It takes a lot of work, but in the long run it’s huge. The cost [reduction] for the county…would be immense.”

While FHS’ roofs are likely good candidates for rooftop solar because of their expansive flat space, they are also nearing the end of their “planned lifespan,” which means they are due for a renovation soon. Structural weaknesses such as these could delay the installation of the panels at FHS and other buildings in the county. “You have to have a roof that is going to be good for about 25 years to be cost effective, because you don’t want to have to take solar panels off to fix a roof and then put panels back on,” O’Neill explains. However, he also mentioned that many of the county schools’ roofs will likely be renovated over the next five years, according to a “budget meeting for the school system” that took place in February.

In addition to the roofs’ structural soundness, it must be ensured that the buildings’ electrical systems can accommodate the energy generated by the solar panels. The process of surveying is expensive, but O’Neill emphasizes that it is a “long term investment in order to keep [electrical] prices down [in the future].”

“I want a substantial amount of power for each school that, when balanced against the cost, is a net benefit, and it’s a net benefit big enough that people see it’s worth doing it,” explained O’Neill.

He currently expects ballpark figures for the cost of the installation to be around $35,000. The necessary money for the surveying and installation of the solar panels will have to be factored into the county’s budget and approved by both the school board and the board of supervisors. Despite the cost, O’Neill stays positive and offers solutions such as a potential bond issue or donations.

For those hoping to support the process of having rooftop solar installed, O’Neill encourages them to “energize people to talk to their school board members and tell them ‘we think this would be a good idea.’” Despite the roadblocks that precede the installation of rooftop solar panels at FHS, such as the roof replacement and substantial upfront surveying and installation costs, the prospect of adding solar panels to FHS continues to be evaluated. The potential electricity savings and the switch to a greener future could impact incoming FHS students for years to come.

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About the Contributor
Ali Patusky
Ali Patusky, Editor-in-Chief
Hi! My name is Ali Patusky and I am a senior. This is my third year writing for The Falconer, and I am an Editor-in-Chief. I write for a local magazine in addition to the school newspaper and am excited for my last year on the Falconer!  
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