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Solar Panels at Chester Elementary Get Official Welcome

Published 10/30/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 10/30/2013 12:13 PM

By Rita Christopher
Valley Courier

You can read about clean energy in books, you can look it up on the web, but if you live in Chester, you can just ask a member of the Chester Elementary School (CES) Energy Team. All nine students, in grades 3 to 5, who chose the energy team as a school enrichment activity, showed what they know about clean energy at the recent ribbon cutting for the solar panels that actually have been atop the elementary school roof since August.

Michael Benjamin, a 5th grader, pointed out that fossil fuels create global warming, unlike energy created by solar panels. Travis Finnerty, a 3rd grader, explained that the amount of power solar panels could produce depended on the weather and the seasons. Samantha Braga, a 5th grader, noted that clouds affect the amount of electricity the panels make.

Braga was the only girl on the nine-member CES Energy Team. When asked why she had chosen the energy program for her enrichment activity, she only smiled-"She really likes science," said Hilary Clark, a 4th-grade teacher and one of the two CES professionals in charge of the energy team program. The other leader was CES principal Michael Barile. Energy Team student members also included
3rd-graders Mason Dumas and Jack LaMark; 4th-graders Finn Riordan, Ben Safran, and Anthony Saglimbeni, and 5th-graders Michael Benjamin, Raen Corbett, and Nick Wilkinson.

The solar energy panels at the elementary school result from the success of another energy team, the town-wide energy team headed by Pat Woomer. Spearhead by the town-wide team, Chester participated in the CT Solar Challenge, a program that involved an audit of town energy use as well as an incentive program for individual homeowners to install solar energy systems.

The Solar Challenge awarded points based on overall participation to be used for a grant to install a free solar energy system on a town facility. The initial grant was for $32,000. The town then contributed $8,000 and a matching grant from the state provided another $8,000.

According to Woomer, the elementary school is the largest user of energy in Chester and it had the necessary qualifications for the installation of solar panels. The school had a flat roof, recently repaired, for installation of the panels and it had the proper orientation for the photo-voltaic cells to work correctly. So far, as one of the elementary school energy speakers, Anthony Saglimbeni, noted in his presentation, the panels have saved the school $5.23 in electricity per day.

With the present installation, Woomer said the solar panels would not be able to account for more than 10 percent of the school's energy bill, but that there could ultimately be additions to the system. In addition, he noted that the system allowed all the students of Chester Elementary School to learn the basics of clean energy.

At the recent ceremony, that seemed to be the case. When Barile asked members of the Chester Energy Team, referring to the adults who had spearheaded the program, to stand, he got a surprise: The entire elementary school audience stood.

Along with Woomer, those in attendance at the ribbon cutting included State Senator Art Linares and State Representative Phil Miller; Chester First Selectman Ed Meehan and Selectman Tom Englert; Regional District 4 Superintendent Ruth Levy; and representatives from the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority-the agency created by the Connecticut Legislature to finance energy conversion projects-and Aegis Solar Energy, the company that installed the system.

All the invited guests who spoke addressed not only the students in the audience but also asked the elementary schoolers to take the message about clean energy home to their parents. That part of the adults' speeches got through loud and clear.

"I am going to tell my parents to get solar, it helps the environment," said Michael Benjamin of the CES energy team.

"I am going to yell at them to get clean energy," added Anthony Saglimbeni.

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