Building a Sustainable School

a solar panel array

Arthur Morgan School has always valued its simplicity. We warm our boarding houses and academic buildings by burning wood that we chop ourselves. We grow vegetables in our garden and raise livestock for eggs. When our roads are in disrepair, we haul wheelbarrows full of gravel to fix them. It could be simpler to buy wood or food or pay someone else to fix our roads, but we value the confidence and sense of accomplishment that comes from hard work and living simply. We enjoy the work of building a sustainable school.

We also value the way our simple living results in a lower carbon footprint for the school. AMS has always been conscious of its effect on the environment. When I started working at AMS ten years ago, the campus was full of helpful posted tips on how to lower electricity costs, save water and consider reusing something before throwing it in the trash. These reminders led to a culture that prized making a low environmental impact and taught students to feel responsible for the future of their world. We also had a Green Initiative Fund that the school used to update its appliances to more eco-friendly versions whenever possible and replace old leaky windows.

Learning about Sustainability

Sometimes students would make a game out of living simply. We would host a “no electricity week” where students challenged themselves to go without any lights for as long as they could.  It meant some early bedtimes.  In the fall, our boarding houses sometimes challenged each other to see how long they could go before making the first fire of the season. These activities weren’t just about using less money or wood.  They were about teaching students and staff to recognize that they don’t need lightbulbs to survive and that coming home to a warm house is a luxury they should not take for granted.

cows in front of a solar panelIn 2013 AMS took another step to building a sustainable school. We put in a solar field array in Moon Field. Alumnus Kurt Johnson of Sun Power Corporation, connected the school to over 100 solar panels that were earmarked for any non-profit organization. We still needed to build the infrastructure that would allow us to install and use the panels and let them start producing electricity.  Heather Dawes, our Development Coordinator, worked tirelessly submitting grant proposals and raising money to make the solar array possible and in 2014, we turned it on.

French Broad Electric Company has unfortunate policies when in comes to making your own electricity through solar panels.  They don’t allow for net metering, but instead buy the electricity we generate at a wholesale cost.  We still have to purchase our electricity at retail prices so we didn’t erase the school’s power bills.  We did make a huge impact though.

Results So Far

For five years, we have been generating clean energy. Just how much? Actually thanks to the monitoring systems on our inverters, we know exactly how much. Since we turned on our solar panel array it has generated over 265,000 kWh. That translates to almost 500,000 pounds of carbon!

AMS continues to strive to lower its carbon footprint. Students frequently bring ideas on how to save energy to All School Meeting and bring awareness to the harmful effects of burning coal in order to make electricity.  We also often have core classes and field trips about this topic and look for organizations to support who are doing this important work.  All the while we will keep our solar array working and work toward a sustainable school and cleaner world.

-by Nicholas Maldonado