Gibault greenhouse goes solar - Republic-Times | News

Gibault greenhouse goes solar

By on December 14, 2016 at 12:03 pm
Pictured in front of the greenhouse are, from left, Chuck Witthaus of StraightUp Solar, Joshua Adams of Clinton Electric, Gibault biology teacher Karen Asbury, Gibault maintenance supervisor Mark Cranage and Matt Reuscher of StraightUp Solar. (submitted photo)

Pictured in front of the greenhouse are, from left, Chuck Witthaus of StraightUp Solar, Joshua Adams of Clinton Electric, Gibault biology teacher Karen Asbury, Gibault maintenance supervisor Mark Cranage and Matt Reuscher of StraightUp Solar. (submitted photo)

Two years and $7,700. That’s what Gibault Catholic High School biology teacher Karen Asbury and her students needed to turn the school’s greenhouse into a solar-powered facility.

“Two years ago, (Gibault’s) Students Concerned about Our Planet and Environment decided they would like to spend the club’s money to invest in solar panels or put in an Illinois prairie restoration on the property,” Asbury told the Republic-Times.

“Gibault had just been a recipient of a donation of a greenhouse, and the students thought it would be a great idea if we could power the greenhouse with solar energy.

“We could start small and try to then build upon that and add alternative energy to the school when we could afford it.”

As neither Asbury nor SCOPE knew where to begin with the project at the time, they turned to StraightUp Solar. The St. Louis solar installation company then helped the group promote solar energy and educate the community on their proposal.

“We held an informational night which spurred (Gibault administrative assistant) Janet Thomas to decide to put solar panels on (her) farm for (her) barn and fence line,” Asbury said.

“It was very inspirational for our students – we filmed a short video along with Shannon Fulton from Straight Up Solar at the farm to help educate others about solar energy.”

SCOPE also sought contributions through various fundraisers. In total, a bake sale, 50/50 raffle and donations from family, along with fundraisers from previous years, raised more than $4,000 for the group. But even that only brought them halfway to their goal.

“Without (an Illinois Clean Energy grant) it would have taken us several more years to get enough money for the solar panels,” Asbury said.

Instead, Illinois Clean Energy agreed to fund 90 percent of the cost to go solar — $7,000. That left the school only needing to provide $700.

“The cool thing about the Illinois Clean Energy grant is that the solar panels can be hooked into the computer so that real-time energy production can be seen on their website and we can put that on Gibault’s website as well.

“We plan on using that data to display on our school website and TVs so that the entire school can see the data as the panels are working day by day,” Asbury said.

She added that Gibault’s statistics class and physical science classes will use the data to determine cost savings and discuss the environmental impact of alternative energy.

At $7,700 for a one kilowatt, four-panel solar unit to power the 30-foot-by-70-foot greenhouse, the school paid $7.70 per watt. The 25-year net utility savings will come out to $2,422.

“For this school year, the cost savings will be around $100, which is pretty good for a small four-panel system that will ultimately cost the school only $700,” Asbury said.

The city of Waterloo must perform an inspection before the school can use the solar installation.

“Karen was relentless in her efforts to bring solar to our greenhouse, which frankly doesn’t surprise any of us here at school,” Gibault principal Russ Hart said. “She is one of the hardest working educators I have ever known who also happens to make the environment a priority.”

According to Asbury, the money donated to SCOPE will go to club activities, such as a field trip the kids took to Weldon Spring Site in St. Charles, Mo., to learn about alternative energy. The 16-member club will also decide whether to save for more solar panels.

“We will also have a Solar-bration in the spring — probably around Earth Day — to celebrate our solar panels and to educate the entire school on alternative energy and how the solar energy is being produced,” Asbury said.


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Sean McGowan

Sean is a die-hard Cubs fan, despite the relentless peer pressure coming from the rest of the Republic-Times staff. He and his wife, Jacqui, have been married for two years. Originally from the west suburbs of Chicago, Sean and his wife moved down to Normal to attend Illinois State University and stayed central Illinois residents for the past four years. email:sean@republictimes.net