Coleman School District Superintendent Brian Walters (right) watches as Eland Electric workers Paul Mahlik (left) and Rick Brice install solar panels Thursday on the roof of Coleman Elementary School. The 24-kilowatt solar-electric system will benefit the district in energy savings and in resources to the students as they learn about solar energy. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Coleman School District Superintendent Brian Walters (right) watches as Eland Electric workers Paul Mahlik (left) and Rick Brice install solar panels Thursday on the roof of Coleman Elementary School. The 24-kilowatt solar-electric system will benefit the district in energy savings and in resources to the students as they learn about solar energy. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
COLEMAN - The Coleman School District will soon be benefiting from the sun's rays in more ways than one this year.

A large 24-kilowatt solar-electric system was installed on the roof of the Coleman Elementary School Thursday morning as a part of the SolarWise for Schools program funded in part by the Wisconsin Public Service Community Foundation. The school district also received funding from Eland Electric Corp. and a grant from Focus on Energy.

"The benefits will be two-fold at least," said high school Principal Doug Polomis. "Not only will we benefit from the free renewable energy and the reduced fossil fuel use, we are now able to provide knowledge and resources to the students about solar energy and how it can be used."

The SolarWise program uses the WPS Community Foundation to provide schools with solar panels and installation, maintenance on those panels for 15 years, a 26-week lesson plan with resources to learn about the renewable energy source and training for teachers who will use the curriculum.

"The whole district will benefit from this," said Superintendent Brian Walters. "There are different pieces and ways for every level of student to benefit from this opportunity. We'll have to look into it to see how it will fit it. There are different ways of looking at it, but the panels and the software makes the lessons tangible."

The students will also be invited to compete with other schools in WPS's Solar Olympics each spring. Coleman is the 51st out of 64 schools eligible for the program to participate in the SolarWise program.

"This is a great opportunity for students to learn about renewable energy," said SolarWise for Schools program manager Mike Moore. "They'll learn about the benefits and drawbacks and expense through a practical perspective."

In 2012, the SolarWise for Schools program was given the Best Green Power Education Outreach Program award by the national Center for Resources Solutions. The award was co-sponsored by the U.S. EPA Green Power Partnership.

"We want people to learn about solar energy from a scientific standpoint," Moore said. "This is a great opportunity for hands-on learning of the system, the benefits, the drawbacks, everything."

In addition to the educational prospects, Moore estimated the school will save about $4,000 in energy costs a year with the solar-electric system. He said the panels will contribute approximately 10 percent of the school's energy and that they have a 25-year lifespan on average.

"We will benefit by saving money and dedicated those resources to more beneficial areas," Walters said. "There is also the educational aspect. We'll use the software to track what the usage is and what changes there are. We'll get to see it all in action."

According to Walters, the Coleman School District is still looking for more ways to advocate sustainability and demonstrates its willingness to help the environment by considering energy efficient options to their projects.

"We're replacing lighting in the buildings right now," he said. "It's more energy efficient and we're also making sure the students receive the proper amount of lighting in their classrooms. We just finished putting in an LED lighting system in the parking lots that stays on but gets dim when there is no activity and a motion detector makes them brighter when a car comes in."

A dedication for the solar-electric system is planned for Oct. 1 at the school for students and the public. The SolarWise program will also be hosting an Energy Fair for the students at the same time.