Mill Creek High School unveils new solar array

HOSCHTON - As the world's fossil fuels decrease in quantity and increase in price, Mill Creek High School is exploring alternative forms of energy.

The school unveiled a 12-foot-tall solar array Monday, a move that offers a clean, renewable energy source to power some of the school's operations.

The installation was part of the statewide Sun Power for Schools program. Jackson Electric Membership Corporation selected Mill Creek as one of 16 school sites across Georgia to receive a photovoltaic array.

Principal Jim Markham was excited about the new array, which has seven solar panels capable of producing up to 1.2 kilowatts. In the next few decades, he hopes there will be more efforts to harness the power of the sun as a renewable energy source.

"This will generate enough power to run our walk-in cooler daily," Markham said. "That's just amazing. I can see the day when our school roof will be nothing but solar panels and satellite dishes."

The new solar array will also serve as an educational tool for Mill Creek students and teachers. Through a Web site, they will be able to monitor the temperature, sunshine and the current and historical performance of the equipment. They can also translate the kilowatt hours into the number of homes it could support daily, and the number of hours a television could operate using the power generated.

As part of the installation, the school held a teacher training session to acquaint math and science teachers with the system, offering tips to help them incorporate the data into classroom projects.

"We see this solar installation as a benefit to all of Gwinnett County's schools," said Randall Pugh, president and CEO of Jackson EMC. "Today's students will be tomorrow's energy policy decision makers, and we hope this solar program will help them better understand and appreciate the value of renewable energy."

Four students unveiled the new structure at a sunny outdoor reception on Monday morning. As they pulled off the cover, the theme music played to Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." It was appropriately followed by the Beatles' song "Here Comes the Sun."

In addition to promoting solar energy, the new structure shows off Mill Creek's school colors. Rather than simply being silver, the solar array is Vegas gold, navy blue and cardinal red.

School system officials had high praise for the new photovoltaic solar array, which is permanently affixed near the front entrance of Mill Creek.

"I think we have got to do something, and I think that this is certainly one of many efforts we have to promote," Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said.

Jackson EMC is one of the 28 Georgia electric cooperatives participating in the state's first renewable energy generation program, called Green Power EMC. They contributed the $11,000 solar installation, and the $5,000 data logger and metering equipment. Green Power EMC will own and monitor the equipment for three years before officially turning it over to the school.

Alan Shedd, the commercial and industrial marketing engineer for Jackson EMC, said he hopes the solar array will inspire students at Mill Creek and across Georgia to learn more about renewable sources of power.

"They're going to be tomorrow's decision makers when it comes to energy development," Shedd said. "We really think we need to start now to change the way we use electricity."

Statewide, Green Power EMC expects to generate about 44 million kilowatt hours of electricity in 2006. That's roughly enough energy to power about 3,700 homes for a year.

To monitor the performance of the new Mill Creek solar array, visit view2.fatspaniel.net/SSH/MainView.jsp.