Camels Hump Middle School getting a solar boost (Burlington Free Press)

By Matt Ryan
Free Press Staff Writer

RICHMOND -- Camels Hump Middle School in Richmond plans to harness the power of the sun this fall, lessen its carbon footprint and save on energy costs, by way of the solar panel.

Beneath a blue sky Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who secured $260,442 in federal money to install the panels, said the school was helping to lead the state toward using more sustainable energy. Vermont's Clean Energy Development Fund provided $250,000, and Green Mountain Power provided $25,000 to cover the remaining cost to install 345 solar panels -- each about the size of the school's windows -- on the school's flat roof.

Green Mountain Power hired Richmond School Board member Jeff Forward, who works as a "green technology" consultant, to spearhead the project. The school plans to have the panels installed over the summer and functional by the start of the school year, Forward said.

The project will help dispel the "misnomer" that Vermont is too cloudy for solar energy, said Mary Powell, president of Green Mountain Power.

"We really want to see a meaningful, sustainable energy future for Vermont," she said.

Based on the school's electric bills and the amount of energy solar panels produce, Forward figures solar power will generate about 82,500 kilowatt-hours each year, or between 10 percent and 15 percent of the school's electrical use. The panels will be most effective during the summer, he said.

A wood chip boiler installed in the early 1990s will continue to heat the school.

Forward said he would like to work with Efficiency Vermont to improve the school's energy efficiency. The school needs to replace its 40-year-old wiring and remove its aging transformers, he said.

The solar panels have a 25-year warranty, Forward said. The panels are expected to pay for themselves in energy savings in 20 years or less, the district said.

Chittenden East Supervisory Union Superintendent Jim Massingham said he hopes other schools will follow Camels Hump's lead.

"We are looking forward to taking this next step in showing the way to greater efficiency and hope that our project will help make it easier for other schools to make the best use of resources," Massingham said. "Having a system like this operational on our campus will also provide an invaluable educational resource for our students."