Sophomores at Midland School in Los Olivos recently continued a 12-year tradition of increasing the amount of renewable energy being generated by and for the campus.

In about three days, the 21-member class added another set of 3-kilowatt solar panels to a set of panels installed by last year’s sophomores, creating a bank of panels that now generates 6 kilowatts of electricity.

“They got these fitted together perfectly, which is not easy to do,” said Gary Gordon of Santa Ynez Valley Solar, pointing out how the new set of panels, angled to make the most of the sunlight, is perfectly aligned with the previous set of angled panels.

Gordon is the technical adviser and materials supplier for the annual student-centered project, which he said is unique.

“Most schools just hire a big solar company to come in and install all the panels, and it’s done,” Gordon said. “But here, (the students) do all the work.

“I just make sure they don’t hurt themselves,” he added with a chuckle. “They dig the holes, pour the concrete, set the supports, put the modules on and wire them up.”

This particular bank of solar panels, located in the girls living yard, is one of three large and two smaller ones scattered around the sprawling campus on Figueroa Mountain Road.

Together, the five solar arrays generate 100 percent of the power needed for the junior and sophomore girls quad and 35 percent of the power needed to run the entire school.

Gordon said the electricity generated by the panels doesn’t directly power the school; instead, it’s back-fed into the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power grid. PG&E then credits the school for that amount of energy.

“This is a favorite project,” said Charis Derbyshire, marketing director for the school. “The kids are just so enthusiastic.”

Having the sophomores install a set of panels each year is part of Midland’s commitment to increase the school’s solar capacity by 10 percent each year, Derbyshire said.

Technological advancements are making it easier to meet that commitment.

“Originally, kilowatts were harder to get,” she said.

Having students install the solar arrays is also part of the school’s philosophy of hands-on learning.

“Midland is an experiential school, and this is Experiential Week,” Derbyshire said.

That meant installing a set of solar panels wasn’t the only thing sophomores accomplished during the week of April 2-8, which in addition to sustainability projects on campus was devoted to exploration of the Santa Ynez Valley watershed.

The class also planted a mature oak in the Middle Yard and onions in the campus garden — Midland grows and raises 50 percent of its own food — and installed a bioswale along a portion of Alamo Pintado Creek.

Sophomores visited the Neal Taylor Nature Center at Cachuma Lake, where they also took a lake cruise, then traveled to the Santa Ynez River estuary near Surf Beach and hiked to the headwaters of Alamo Pintado Creek along a trail from Figueroa Mountain Road.

Amid all that, the students found time to restore the Earth Block Bench in the girls quad, removing lime plaster and refinishing the top with flagstones and mortar.


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