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After the new solar panels, maybe a wind turbine?

CORNWALL — The sun had to shine brightly on Cornwall Consolidated School on April 20, for the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the installation of the solar voltaic panel.

Students and school staff welcomed the eco-equipment to the campus, as did town officials, state officials, energy experts and local volunteers, who all helped earn this reward for green energy awareness.

Cornwall Energy Task Force leader Katherine Freygang said it all began with conversations Cornwall residents were having about going green.

“I organized a few public forums several years ago, and it just took off from there,†she said.

With the urging of the Board of Selectmen, Freygang went to Hartford to learn about efforts organized by the state.

In February 2007, Cornwall passed a resolution to take part in the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund’s 20 Percent by 2010 program. Nearly a third of town residents and business owners quickly elected to purchase their power from “clean “sources. Cornwall was soon leading not just the state, but also the nation in terms of green energy use. Its efforts earned it the equipment and the cost of installation of the small (9.03 kilowatts) but expandable solar energy collection system.

After considering several town buildings as the best home for the panel, the school was chosen. The system was installed last fall and was up and “running†on Dec. 18.

Energetic efforts

That 2007 resolution helped create the Energy Task Force, Freygang said.

“We got grant money for an energy fair, a house tour and an energy audit and programs at the school. It became as much about awareness as anything else, and the conversations about ideas that kept going made all the difference.â€

She noted a long list of people, both within and outside of Cornwall whose efforts made it happen.

First Selectman Gordon Ridgway recalled that when he was a student at Cornwall Consolidated about 30 years ago, teacher (and later principal) Bill Oros taught about alternative energy and got the students excited about it.

He used a sports analogy to describe Cornwall’s success in going green: “You have to play with your heads up.â€

During the ongoing state fiscal predicament of recent years, legislators threatened to strip the Clean Energy Fund to help balance the budget.

It’s not going to happen, state Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-30) promised the small crowd gathered in the school gym last Tuesday.

“I believe the state Legislature saw the very feeble underpinnings of that proposal,†Roraback said.

Of Cornwall’s efforts, he said,“As Connecticut leads the way in responsible energy planning for our future, Cornwall leads the way in Connecticut. It was the energy of your collective efforts that put you on the map.â€

Nuts and bolts

Out on the school grounds, Richard Dziadul, of solar voltaic installer PV Squared, explained how the two panel arrays (erected on poles) work.

The original plan — to put them on the roof — turned out not to be feasible. The added weight and lack of roof with southern exposure were problems. But as it turned out, Plan B worked just as well.

It’s about awareness

The panels are expected to produce about 5 percent of the energy used by the school. The  panels have been in place since December, and those estimates seem to be on target. That translates to about $2,000 a year in savings.

The system has a projected life span of 25 years.

There were grumblings even at the ceremony that the more-than-$90,000 installation cost will never pay for itself. And that is precisely what those who promote clean-energy use struggle with when seeking “converts.â€

 It’s not about saving money at this point, they reiterate. It’s about saving resources and the environment.

And that’s why planners looked for ways to make the installation noticeable.

Dziadul called one of the arrays the  “glamour pole.†That’s the highly visible one by the main driveway, which doesn’t get the most sunlight but provides a lot of sparkling publicity.

“It’s right in the front where parents are dropping off their kids and everyone can see and appreciate the system,†Dziadul said. “Awareness is a big part of this.â€

The panels collect solar energy even when the sun is not out, although at a lower rate. The energy is sent directly to an AC converter and a breaker box.

The system is virtually maintenance free, and does not require that the energy be stored in batteries; at this point, everything that is generated is used immediately. Should there ever be a surplus, it will go directly to the regional power grid — and earn the town a credit on its electric bill.

Bob Wall, director of Energy Market Initiatives at the Clean Energy Fund, compared Cornwall to an Olympic speed skater.

“Norfolk was the first town to hit 10 percent. Then, like Apolo Ohno, you swept by and were the first to reach 20, then 30 percent,†he said. “I know you will keep going until you reach 50 percent. The next bonus is another kilowatt, or a thermal or wind turbine system, if you prefer. I have no doubt that will happen by the summer.â€

Detailed, up-to-the-minute tracking of solar energy production at CCS can be found at fat spaniel.com.

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