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November 08, 2006

Solar At Stella


The classrooms at Stella Maris in Sag Harbor will soon be filled with sunlight even on the cloudiest days, if all goes according to plan. The sunlight in question will become 50 200-watt solar panels on the roof of the school's gymnasium that will generate approximately 12,800 kilowatt hours annually, representing about $7500 in yearly electric savings for the school.

Chris Hall, a school board member whose daughter attends the school, is organizing the fundraising effort for the solar panels, which, he said, once installed, will reduce electric consumption at the school by 50% annually. Go Solar, a Riverhead firm, will donate the labor to install the panels, which will cost approximately $60,000, after a $47,000 rebate from LIPA.

The impetus for the project at the school was a solar fan Hall helped his daughter construct for a school project, which rekindled his longtime interest in solar and alternative energies. "I always said, 'One day I want to do something about it.' Then you start to realize that one day should be here now," he explained.

Hall approached Stella Maris' principal Jane Peters about transforming school into one partially powered by solar energy. Peters said she was enthusiastic about both the educational and financial benefits of the project. "First and foremost for an education facility, we look at the learning possibilities for our students," she said. In addition to the scientific aspects of how the panels function, the project will also provide students with the opportunity to study the history and use of oil and "the dilemmas it poses to our planet," she said.

Students will be able to gauge the effect the panels have on reducing pollution output by the school. "They'll be able to see how many pounds of hydrocarbons are displaced," said Gary Minnick, the president of Go Solar. He said the school will reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 21,500 pounds annually once the solar panels are in use.

Hall estimated it will take three to six months to raise money to pay for the panels; he said Stella Maris may hold a fundraising concert as part of the effort.

Hall has first-hand experience in how the panels will work; he recently had solar panels installed at his business. When solar energy input is higher than the building's output, the excess energy is put back into the LIPA grid. "It's amazing. On a sunny day . . . the meter actually spins backwards," he said.

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