Virginia >> The Winchester Chapter is boosting the power of its educational outreach with solar panels.
Chapter leaders wanted to engage in conservation efforts beyond food plots for wildlife and distributing coloring books to youth. When they talked about long-term goals for the chapter, an investment in solar power made sense — it would be good for the environment, an educational tool for the community, and ultimately save the chapter money.
After the project was approved by the chapter’s Board of Directors, members started researching types of solar projects and companies that could install them. When then they heard about a local chicken farmer who installed solar panels on his coops, they got in touch with Sean Ingles at Integrated Power Sources of Virginia.
Ingles visited the chapter to review their electrical usage, potential sites for solar panels, and the chapter’s budget. Then he worked with chapter leaders on a solution that fit their needs. The chapter wanted the solar equipment installed at ground level so visitors — especially school children — could examine the equipment up close. This also makes the equipment easier to maintain and provides room to expand in the future.
The Winchester Chapter spent approximately $34,000 to put in the solar array, funded mostly though member dues and money from the chapter’s savings account. The solar array is designed to generate 5,720 watts at full capacity (based on an estimate that takes into account cloudy days, changes in the hours of daylight per day, etc.). To put that in perspective, central air conditioning can use up to 3,500 watts of power, a refrigerator up to 700 watts, and a desktop computer 340 watts.
How does the chapter save money? Electricity generated by the solar array is sent back to the utility, making the meter spin backwards and counting down what the chapter owes each month. For example, if the chapter used 10,000 watts of power and produced 7,000, it would only pay for 3,000. If the reverse were to happen — the chapter produced 10,000 watts and only used 7,000 — the chapter would receive nothing for the extra power because they do not have a purchasing agreement with the power company to sell excess power back to the grid. (In Virginia, the conditions are not favorable to purchasing agreements. The chapter would need a much larger — and more expensive — solar array to generate enough surplus to make it worth their while to try to sell it back to the utility.)
“Now we’re trying to get to the point that we can monitor energy usage via computer through a link on the chapter Web page,” says chapter Vice President Dan Dillon, who co-chaired the project with Second Vice President Larry Bell. “That way, the students at the local high school will be able to see it from their own computers as well.” This solar array will offer educational opportunities for youth of all ages in the local community.