The morning of Feb. 10 dawned cold, frosty and just perfect for a solar installation.
Thirteen volunteers, including a student intern, a school teacher and a group of local solar professionals, showed up at Bitney Prep High School to help put solar modules on the roof of the school’s Science and Humanities Building.
“The best part about this project,” said school director Russ Jones, carrying a solar panel across the parking lot, “is that it’s free — absolutely free.”
Using funds from California Proposition 39, designed to improve energy efficiency and expand clean energy generation in schools, plus the design, engineering and installation resources of local nonprofit Good Sun Solar, Bitney received a 12kW solar system without having to use any general funds, Jones said.
“This means we don’t have to cut back on our existing programs, and, over time, the monthly savings on our utility bills will allow us to add new programs and increase salaries for our staff,” he said.
“This was our first big installation in town,” said Eric Stikes, founder of Good Sun Solar. “Our mission is to provide free and low-cost solar power to nonprofits and low-income households in this region by repurposing older solar systems, utilizing volunteer labor and working closely with our nonprofit partners to find creative solutions.”
In the spring of last year, Good Sun Solar won a technical assistance grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Solar In Your Community” program, allowing the organization to pay for design and engineering fees, as well as permits and inspections, for its projects.
“This grant created opportunities for us to move our projects to the front burner,” Stikes said.
Over the next year or so, Good Sun plans to install systems benefitting local nonprofits Grass Valley Charter and Yuba River Charter, as well as SYRCL, Hospitality House and Habitat for Humanity.
“If we have the resources,” Stikes said, “we’d install free systems on every nonprofit and struggling household in this county. Solar power reduces real out-of-pocket costs immediately, and as utility costs increase, the amount of money saved also increases.”
Volunteers from California Green Energy Construction, California Solar Electric Company, Byers Solar, Sunpower, Tesla, Powerhouse Electric, Caiman Engineering and Integrative Roofing and Energy took time to help with the Bitney Prep project.
One volunteer, Oliver Bach, a senior at Bitney Prep, has been an intern at California Solar in Grass Valley for the last 18 months.
“I’ve really come to see the value of solar and I love learning more about it,” Bach said. “I’m even thinking of a career in solar now.”
Bach participates in Bitney’s Solar Learning Lab, a special elective class in which students explore issues related to renewable energy and learn basic technical skills they can apply at their internships.
“I started out organizing the warehouse,” Bach laughed. “Now I’m out on the jobsite most weeks, up on the roof.”
As part of its all-day internship program on Wednesdays, Bitney currently has five students working at solar companies, including Plan-It Solar, Sustainable Energy Group, and DC Solar, as well as Cal-Solar.
Nonprofits and individuals can apply for help through the company’s website at goodsunsolar.org. Prospective high school students can check out Bitney Prep at bitneyprep.net.
Young is the executive director of Good Sun Solar and a teacher at Bitney Prep High School.