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PR-B School District now home to large solar array

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A worker assists with the installation of an 808-kW solar array for the Pine River-Backus School District. The solar array is now the largest school installation in central Minnesota, according to the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance. Submitted photo2 / 2

PINE RIVER—The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance recently completed its 808-kW solar array at the Pine River-Backus School District, making it the largest school solar project in central Minnesota, according to the organization.

It is the first of six arrays to be installed for regional schools in partnership with the Region Five Development Commission.

The site-based solar array at PR-B will produce about 1.14 million kWh in a year, approximately 80 percent of the entire district's electricity load. After developing the Solar for Schools project for years with the collaboration of the Region Five Development Commission, the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, or RREAL, and the PR-B faculty are eager to not only see it start producing power for the school, but also to use it in their classes and curriculum, a news release stated.

"This project could not have started at a more perfect time. The Minnesota K-12 science education standards are being revised, and within these revisions is the integration of renewable energy curriculum," said Jason Edens, RREAL's director. "We hope to leverage these standards and incorporate site-based solar into the classroom. Today's youth are making tomorrow's energy choices, and students exposed to responsible clean energy possibilities now will lead the way to a clean energy future."

Many hurdles were conquered to see this project to fruition. It required the time, support and dedication of the city of Pine River, Widseth Smith Nolting and Minnesota Power, the regional utility, the release stated.

Now that the Pine River- Backus installation is complete, RREAL is focusing on building a 354-kW roof mount at Pequot Lakes High School as well as a total of 333kW at four Central Lakes College locations. These projects are set to be completed by May 2019.

But RREAL's Solar for Schools project doesn't stop once the panels are set up. It is just beginning. Over the next couple of months, RREAL will be meeting with Pine River-Backus and Pequot Lakes teachers to begin the Solar for Schools curriculum development. This will bring age-appropriate science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, or STEAM, integrated with clean energy education opportunities to children of all grade levels for years to come, the organization reported.

Real-time data from the six regional school solar energy systems will be collected and will be available at kiosks in every school library and at instructors' finger tips for classroom use.

"These schools will become avenues for educating, inspiring, and empowering students and the broader community with solar technology," the release stated.

For more information on RREAL and Solar for Schools project, visit www.rreal.org or call 218-587-4753.