Through a collaborative community effort, a solar array of more than 6,000 square feet is now operational at Sehome High School.
One of the guiding principles for the Sehome Design Advisory Committee was to build a school that would “be a sustainable environment that promotes global citizenship and environmental awareness.” A subcommittee was formed to specifically focus on how to incorporate sustainability into the school. This subcommittee, equipped with a $100,000 donation from Dawson Construction, chose to pursue an installation of a solar array further supporting the district goal of building sustainability.
In addition to Dawson’s financial donation, Silfab donated the 325 panels and VECA Electric donated the labor to connect panels to the utility grid. Most of the panels donated by Silfab, 75 percent of them, were also manufactured here in Bellingham. Originally the district was planning on a 39kW array, but, due to these community donations, the final array can produce 100 kW.
“To our knowledge, there is only one other school in the state of Washington with this large of an array,” said Corey Ayers, capital projects manager. “The installation was a collaborative process with a lot of players from designers and engineers to the installers and partners who donated to us.”
In the planning, it was decided to use a ballasted rack system to install the panels. This avoided the need to install the panels directly into the brand new roof at Sehome. The rack system will reduce the overall maintenance needs over time.
Ayers explained that all new schools are designed and built ready for solar panels. While panels may not be in the budget when the school is built, the district wants flexibility to be able to add solar panels in the future. This aligns with the district goal of energy efficiency management. As a public agency the district does not receive any of the financial incentives homeowners do for installation. However, with all donations, the district was able to install the large solar array at virtually no cost.
According to Ayers these panels will also allow for educational opportunities for students who will be able to see the data from the panels and learn more about solar energy.
“The array on Sehome High School is a reflection of our values here in Bellingham and in The Bellingham Promise,” Ayers said. “Part of our values as a community is to support a transition to cleaner energy and to move away from fossil fuels. These panels showcase that we are doing it. It’s powerful.”