Staff Reporter: Krishna Elwell
Monona Grove High School is currently installing solar panels on its roof. The project is set to finish in June of 2022.
As we face the impending crisis of climate change, across the globe we arrive at a crossroads. The world is on fire, and every day people like me, a 15-year-old Sophomore from Monona, look in the mirror and wonder; am I making a change? Do I have a future? However, it is human nature to overcome any challenge that we face, and at Monona Grove High School, a significant change is already happening.
This week, Monona Grove High School is installing solar panels on its roof. It’s a project that has long been in the making, and it’s sure to splash the headlines in the coming months! It will be the largest solar array on any K-12 facility in Wisconsin, producing 50% of the school’s energy, and it will deliver a fortune of benefits.
Monona is expected to save a net of 1.5 Million Dollars by converting to solar panels! That will mean thousands of dollars more for every student, improving education in our community for generations to come. Monona Grove High School is located in Monona, Wisconsin, but students may also come from Cottage Grove, or like me, a few are from Madison. With students coming from all over the Madison metropolitan area, the dollars saved by the innovation of solar energy will be expansive and extremely beneficial for many communities.
The solar panels will produce 845 Megawatt hours of energy per year.To put that into perspective, that is equal to the electricity used by 118 homes every year, or 1,401 barrels of oil. Furthermore, the solar panels will replace the coal-fired electricity that gives the Monona Grove district its power. During the solar array’s lifetime of 30 years, it will offset the burning of 16,000 tons of coal. Additionally, it will also reduce our emissions of over 44,000 pounds of smog-related nitrogen-oxide emissions, 5,400 pounds of particulate emissions, 2.8 pounds of mercury emissions, and 31,000 tons of carbon dioxide.
What’s more, all of the panels on Monona Grove’s roof were American-made. Assembled at a Hanwha Q Cells plant in Dalton, Georgia, it was American manufacturing that produced Monona’s solar panels.
Construction began over the high school’s spring break, during the final week of March 2022.
The project is financed in three ways, bonds, grants, and the savings made by the solar panels. Bonds are the typical way for schools to finance any project.The school district sells loans and will pay them back later in time, usually with interest. Furthermore, the school applied for two grants in 2020-2021.The grants were intended to pay for a solar array similar to the size of the one that will soon be on Monona Grove High School’s roof. In short, the grant was a perfect fit for Monona’s ambitions, and the grants were awarded to the district. Bonds and grants finance approximately 50% of the project at 25% each.
The remaining half of the initiative is provided by the savings that will be generated by the panels themselves.The district will pay for the panels upfront,and from there the savings will only grow.The High School will save around $20,000 in the first year,and the dollars saved will enlarge every year.The school financed this project entirely independently,no new taxes nor fundraisers were necessary!
Monona Grove’s conversion from coal to sustainable energy has many advantages. 1.5 million dollars saved, reduced toxins released into the atmosphere, and an incredible impact among the students and staff at the Monona Grove High School. I met up with a teacher and classmate of mine to hear their opinions about the project.
Brett Ogorzalek, my first interviewee, is a technology & engineering teacher at the high school, with a background in construction. He is an accredited LEED professional, which means that he worked with the US Green Building Council. A non-profit organization, its members discover ways to make new establishments more sustainable and eco-friendly. When asked about his thoughts on the initiative, he remarked,“I think that this is fantastic, and I am proud to be involved in a school that is sustainable and forward thinking with renewable energy. It makes financial sense and helps the earth. It’s a win-win.”
Since he is an LEED professional, I also questioned him on how Monona Grove can become more sustainable, to which he responded, “Solar panels seem like the easiest and most feasible solution to help with climate change. But when I was in construction, I was a LEED accredited professional. I remember that in order for a building to be LEED certified you had to score a number of points.You could use water-friendly solutions for bathrooms, LED light bulbs, plants on the roof, or add bike racks and EV charging stations. I think that some of these would be great ideas for Monona Grove.”
After hearing his perspective, I headed down to the band room where I met up with my good friend, Paxton Braun. A sophomore at Monona Grove like me, she feels very passionate about the environment and believes that there is still more to be done. “I am really glad that our school is taking action,” she commented, “because I haven’t seen much action from people in power. It’s great to see that our small community cares so much and is taking action on climate change!” When I asked her why we need to take action on, she answered, “I
think it’s important to take on climate change because it is going to directly affect our generation. If we don’t take action, we won’t have a future.”
Her comments echo many people I know from my generation. Changes such as Monona's commitment to solar, whether they be locally, nationally, or perhaps even internationally, will determine if my generation has a chance to grow up in a world without the constant threat of natural disaster, unfazed by widespread famine and a polluted atmosphere. Last week, the IPCC, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made a tremendous proclamation to the United Nations. They stated that lest humanity immediately addresses global warming in a bold manner, an apocalyptic future for people like me might be on the horizon. Yet, despite the fact that we are embattled, Monona’s solar panel project shows me that our battle can be won.
The change that we must make is within our reach. Monona Grove is an example to anyone with a hope of a better future that we can preserve our climate and the future for generations to come. Monona’s solar panels will lessen the community’s carbon footprint while doing so in a financially responsible fashion. It was a destiny fulfilled by a mere handful of Monona residents and students on its school board. This initiative was made possible by a community that wanted to make a difference, and in doing so we saved millions of dollars and reduced our emissions to improve the environment. Yet, as a Sophomore at Monona Grove, I feel as though the biggest result was that we made a monument that embodies the hope and possibility that the younger generations can now see. Together,we can make a change. We can make our communities a better place, and save the next generations from harm, as long as we are willing to put in the effort necessary. We can be the change we seek.
The Monona Grove High School will hold an open house on Saturday May 21, 2022 to inaugurate its solar panels. Anyone wishing to see the panels is invited, so I hope to see you there!