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Robotics team plans solar project at Morris Area Schools

Michael Romberger of the Morris Area High School robotics team works on a part for a robot. The team is raising money to install solar panels at the school campus. File photo/Stevens County Times

This is one powerful way to fund a team.

The Morris Area High School robotics team wants to install solar panels on the campus of Morris Area Schools. The money the school district saves in energy costs because of the solar power would then be given to the team.

The team has received approval from the Morris Area School Board to install a system that would provide 8 kilowatt hours up to 40 kilowatt hours. The team has also received a $6,500 seed grant from the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs). The team needs about $17,000 to install the 8 kilowatt solar energy system and $46,000 to install the 40 kilowatt system. The installation is a one-time cost.

Robotics coach Eric Buchanan, a renewable energy scientist at the West Central Research and Outreach Center, said solar panels require little or no maintence each year. The panels the robotics team plans to install will have a warrant of 25 years, Buchanan said. Panels can last longer than 25 years. They still produce energy but the amount declines slightly each year, Buchanan said.

The size of the system installed depends on how much money is raised, team member Teresa Boyd said. The team has already raised about $15,000.

The team is used to raising money because it needs to raise between $10,000 and $15,000 each year to help buy the equipment needed to build a robot for competition and to travel to competition sites in the Upper Midwest, Buchanan said.

The solar panel savings money wouldn't pay for all the annual team costs but it would be a sustainable, reliable source of income, Buchanan said.

The solar panel system would be installed near the proposed new bus garage on the Morris Area High School and Elementary School campus.

While the solar panels can help provide a steady stream of income for the team, the goal of the project is bigger than that.

Team members said Morris Area students in all grades can benefit from the solar panels.

"For me, I feel like the (school's) science department can use it for research and experiments," Robotics team member Mara DeRung said.

Students can "track carbon emissions and the amount of kilowatt hours produced on cloudy day versus sunny days," Boyd said.

Elementary students can learn about how solar panels work, team member Emerald Vipond said.

And, Vipond and Boyd said, a solar panel is an environmentally friendly source of energy and lessens the school's use of fossil fuels.

The team also wants the solar panels to be a model for the community. Other governmental entities or businesses may be motivated to use solar panels if they can learn of the benefits the school receives, team members said.

The team will sponsor a fundraiser and educational night for the community from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 7, at East Side Park in Morris. The team will be serving a meal for free-will donation and providing information on solar panels and its proposed project.

This would be the first solar panel project for the school and team but team members said there is potential for more projects.

Michael Hoffman said the school district has a lot of flat open space on the roofs of buildings that are well -suited for solar panels.

Buchanan said the school district's campus also has open space on the ground suitable for more solar panels.