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DeSales solar panels up and running

LOCKPORT, NY – DeSales Catholic School is seeing the light. Now that light is supplying part of the school’s electrical needs.

The Chestnut Ridge Road school is among a number of local Catholic schools that are installing solar panels on their roofs. Similar projects have either been completed or are in the process of being completed in Catholic schools across Western New York. And the panels are coming at no cost to the schools or the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

Ellen Roth, director of development at DeSales, said the $267,750 project is being funded by a $151,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The remaining $116,750 comes as a donation from Solar Liberty, a private energy company from Buffalo. The diocese has divided up the money between its schools.

Work began in January, and installation of the panels has been completed. The whole system is now up and running.

“We went live this week,” Roth said.

The 144 solar panels are situated atop the school’s gym. The array is expected to save DeSales about $197,000 in utility costs over the next 25 years. During that time, DeSales is expected to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 550 tons of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent of planting 22,250 trees or taking more than 1 million miles of automobile traffic off the road.

A solar energy system produces no waste or emissions. It will produce about 32,488 kilowatts per hour of electricity per year and will supply about 10 percent of DeSales’ electrical needs. In a written statement, Solar Liberty said the clean power is an example of renewable energy in action.

“The DeSales school is a working model for other schools and businesses in the community,” Adam Rizzo, president of Solar Liberty, said in the written statement. “It’s important to demonstrate that solar energy is a truly effective way to power a building while reducing its environmental impact.”

A solar energy system works this way: Sunlight is absorbed into the cells of the solar panels. The cells are made up of silicon, which produce current when the electrons of the silicon become excited by the sunlight. The current passes through an inverter, which turns the current into electricity that is delivered by a utility company.

Rich Klee, maintenance supervisor at DeSales, said the school will keep a close eye on the panels.

“We watch for any cracks, any shifting, make sure they’re aligned correctly,” he said. “And we would know, because the (electrical) readings would be off.”

Teacher Carol Hausrath said her third-grade class watched the entire installation, because her classroom looks out onto the gymnasium roof. Hausrath said because of the students’ interest in what was going on, her lesson plans have touched on solar and greener energy.

“It’s not something we usually cover,” Hausrath said. “But we’ll take advantage of it as a teachable moment.”

Hausrath said Solar Liberty is working on an assembly for DeSales. The presentation would explain how solar energy works and what kind of benefits using that type of energy would have.

“It’ll probably be sometime in April,” she said.

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
By Joe Olenick