A rural elementary school in Arizona offers a lesson in grid independence – albeit small, it is the first in the US to run entirely on renewable energy.
Five wind turbines and 100 solar panels supply the school’s electricity.
The Star Charter School, located in rural Arizona about 30 miles from Flagstaff, serves 130 students pre-school through eighth grade. It is sited close to a major Navajo reservation.
When it opened in 2001 in a former junkyard with no access to public power, and in a community with high unemployment and high drop-out rates, it set out to become a model for small community schools.
Instead of searching for a way to pay for power lines and a water system, the founders drew on their Navajo heritage to create an almost entirely self-sustaining campus. Thus the name STAR (Service to All Relations) and its emphasis on Navajo traditions of community: self-reliance and caring for the environment through green building and clean energy.
37 kilowatts of solar and wind power the school, including its state-of-the-art media lab and an electric well system that waters the orchards and garden, which are cultivated using Navajo practices.
As you might imagine, solar technology is a big part of the curriculum. Students study real-time energy use of computers and lights, evaporative cooling systems and refrigerators.
STAR partners with Northern Arizona University to collect information about the school’s water, air and soil quality, and to offering mentoring in science and engineering.
Here’s a video about the installation, produced by STAR 7th and 8th grade students:
In April, the school was one of 78 across the country to be recognized by the US Department of Education’s first-ever Green Ribbon Award. The recognition is for schools that "exercise a comprehensive approach to creating green environments through reducing environmental impact, promoting health, and ensuring a high-quality environmental and outdoor education to prepare students."
In related news, a new report, Making the Grade with Clean Energy, describes 200 solar projects at schools across California.
"California school districts are adding a fourth "r" to the building blocks of education: reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and renewables," says Michelle Kinman, from the Environment California Research & Policy Center and author of the report. The most popular place for solar seems be on covered parking spaces and systems tend to be around 300 kW, almost all solar PV.
School districts across the country are finding value in green building and renewables, lowering their energy costs and giving them much more room in the budgets for education.
Here’s the Star School website: