School links solar panel to grid

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By Don Pace

Fifth-graders from around the East Las Vegas school district were introduced to a green world taking shape at Memorial Middle School during a flipping-the-switch ceremony that connected a solar panel at the school to the Public Service Company of New Mexico grid.

Shirley Marlow, 4-H science, technology, engineering and math specialist, said the school was one of five in he state chosen by the state Department of Energy and Minerals to receive the solar panel that produces 634 watts of electricity a day, powering the greenhouse on the middle school campus.

Gerald Chacon of the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service, one of the sponsors of the Agriculture-Science Center at Memorial Middle School, told students everyone is excited about the potential of the program.

“I hope all of you understand how important it is that we learn about sustainability in food resources and energy requirements in our world and in our community. We are all tied together to this planet and have a responsibility in this role of sustainability and the only way we can do that is in the resources we have in all of you and that takes a lot of education. It’s up to your generation to help us do that, and this project is one of the many things that you will use to learn how to be come more environmentally friendly and energy efficient,” Chacon said.

Chacon said he saw tremendous opportunities for the students in this new age of technology, and besides, he said it was a lot of fun learning about new ways to do things.

“We’re very excited about New Mexico State University and other universities' role in working with elementary and middle schools in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and we need all of your brain power and energy in order to make this earth sustainable,” Chacon said.

After principal Sandra Madrid flipped the power switch, eight-grade students demonstrated things like baking using a solar oven, hydroelectric fuel cells and wind turbines, while sixth-grade students mentored the visiting fifth-graders.

Cary Lane, who works with Energy Concepts in Las Vegas and installs solar and wind systems around the state, said the solar panel they worked on for the school may produce just a small amount of electricity, but it’s like using building blocks and the potential is unlimited.

Peter Skelton, director of the Memorial's ag center, said the center was about much more than just agriculture.

“We’re using agriculture as a platform to teach science, but the broader context we’re interested in is sustainability. We need to find systems that will be renewable. Scientists predict we have 100 years left of fossil fuels, so it means we’re going to have to look for different ways and technologies that we can use to support ourselves.”

Skelton said the students were demonstrating two different types of renewable systems. He said they were working with alternative energy systems and using compost to improve the earth’s soil.

Marissa Baca and Chantel Davis were giving a presentation on solar ovens, which they said use light rays from the sun, which reflect off the mirrors around the oven and produces heat.

“I don’t have an oven like this at home, but it would come in handy and save a lot of energy” Baca said.

Angel Trujillo, explaining the wind turbines, said, “Wind energy can power a small town just using one turbine. It’s good clean energy and doesn’t pollute the air and it’s better than fossil fuel.”

Skelton said the goal of the day’s events was to get fifth-graders excited about science.

“We wanted to have our sixth-graders mentor our fifth-graders and provide the leadership for this sort of program and allow them to showcase their skills,” Skelton said. He said it was working.