Harnessing the sun | TheUnion.com

Harnessing the sun

The Union photo/John HartThe crew from Plan It Solar of Penn Valley puts solar panels up on the roof of the Mud Hut building next to the Imaginarium. Left to right are Rob Roush, Marc Johnson, Martin Webb and Aron Martin.
John R. Hart | The Union

The Imaginarium will get a break on its energy bill and the opportunity to educate the public about the use of solar energy because of the efforts of a Penn Valley business.

And Terry McAteer, the county superintendent of schools, believes he has a tool to get schools and other public institutions to start thinking about solar energy.

Plan It Solar installed eight 160-watt solar electric panels on the Mud Hut building at the Imaginarium Saturday as part of a company policy to make an annual contribution to the community.

In a separate project, a special state rebate plan for schools allowed Plan It Solar to obtain more than 200 solar panels and related equipment worth $210,000 for county special education facilities for less than $3,000.

“The impact we’re hoping to make is more on the students and on the community than on the electric bill,” said Martin Webb, owner of the firm 15432 Oak Meadow Road.

The solar panels, a 1,100-watt inverter needed to convert DC to AC electricity, and the labor to install the equipment at the Imaginarium have a retail value of about $12,000, but is being installed free of charge.

Judy Nielsen, director of the Imaginarium, is delighted to get the installation. “The real thrust is to expose the community to the uses of solar energy,” she said.

Nielsen said the donation will lead to two new exhibits, one to track how much electricity the solar panels produce, and a hands-on exhibit that will allow visitors to manipulate a solar panel to control

the flow of water from a fountain.

“We are really pleased with this project,” she said.

Webb said his Sacramento-based distributor, Solar Depot, gave him a substantial discount on the solar units, and that SMA America, a German firm that has its U.S. headquarters in Grass Valley, donated the inverter.

In addition, electrician Greg Knisley of Lightning Electric is donating his labor to install the equipment.

The solar system is being hooked into the PG&E grid so that the Imaginarium can get credit for unused power. He estimates the solar panels will cut the electricity bill by 5 to 10 percent.

Installation of 90 160-watt panels at a special education building at Union Hill School in Grass Valley will begin in October. Champion Mine School in Nevada City will receive 108 of the solar units at a later date.

“Making both Champion Mine and the Imaginarium teaching tools is going to influence children, and I hope influence our schools to start thinking about going solar,” McAteer said.

Webb said the solar units at Union Hill and Champion Mine will generate energy cost savings equal to the value of the equipment in 4 to 5 years.

“I can now spend less on energy and more on kids,” McAteer said.

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