Fort Defiance High School alumnus Elias Nafziger imagines that people thought he was “a little crazy” when he suggested adopting solar energy at the school two years ago.
But what started as a casual pitch during a school meeting spiraled into the installation of more than 5,200 solar panels across seven Augusta County schools – the largest public school solar array in Virginia.
Nafziger and alumna Lizzie Hepler, who spearheaded the solar campaign as student body co-presidents last year, celebrated the project with local politicians, school officials and community members during the division’s official solar launch at Clymore Elementary School Tuesday.
“Isn’t it crazy what two kids can do with a little idea and the support of a community? … I truly believe that without Elias’ idea, none of this wouldn’t have happened as quickly as it did,” Hepler said.
Nafziger first presented the idea during a school goal-setting meeting at Fort Defiance High School in 2017. He said at the time, he was thinking about the project on a much smaller scale – like putting a solar tree or a few panels outside the high school.
After writing a report about the concept for Fort Defiance High Principal Larry Landes, Nafziger and Hepler took the discussion to Superintendent Eric Bond at Landes’ suggestion. Bond was immediately supportive of the idea, the 2018 graduates said during the event.
The division signed an agreement last summer to put more than 5,200 solar panels at Wilson Middle School, Wilson Elementary School, Riverheads High School, Riverheads Elementary School, Cassell Elementary, Fort Defiance High School and Clymore Elementary School. Some schools started using energy from the panels as early as December 2018.
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Augusta County Public Schools will save about $500,000 in energy costs over the next 20 years by using solar energy, and the project didn’t cost anything up front, according to Secure Futures. The panels will generate an average of 30 percent of the energy used at the seven schools, the company says.
State Sen. Emmett Hanger, Jr. praised solar energy as “good business practice” in addition to being environmentally conscious.
“I’m excited that my home county school system here is the leader in terms of moving forward with this type of innovation,” he said during the event.
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Del. Steve Landes applauded the project’s educational aspects in addition to its economic and environmental value. Exposing students to the growing industry could prepare them for a solar job later in life, he said.
Secure Futures also provided the division with curriculum about solar energy that matches up with the state’s Standards of Learning, Loren Swartzendruber, senior business development associate at Staunton-based solar company Secure Futures, LLC said during the event.
“We’re saving money, and we’re reducing the carbon footprint of schools. Both of these are hugely important not just to the school system but the community as a whole,” Nafziger said.
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