“The students have been hands-on from Day One,” said Christopher McCabe, director of operations for Eitri Foundry.
Eitri Foundry, which is based in Orlando, Fla., is partnering with the village of Monroeville to create the solar park at the Monroeville Reservoir. Local contractors are placing about 15,000 solar panels on 18 acres of the 55-acre parcel.
“The solar power here will power a third of Monroeville,” said EHOVE senior Luke Meisler, who is one of the electric tech students working at the job site. “I think (more) counties and cites will use solar energy in the future.”
Chris Raftery, Monroeville village council president pro-tem, confirmed the student’s estimate on power savings. She will start her fourth term on council in January.
“It will decrease our usage costs incrementally,” said Raftery, who is on the EHOVE advisory board. “We started discussing (this project) back in February.”
Students have been installing racking, performing civil site work, building metal tresses which are frames that hold the solar panels, and even tightened bolts. They also measured the space for the 16-foot long tresses.
“Each one holds a dozen panels,” said Vince Ragnoni, EHOVE electric tech instructor.
There has been an average of 20 EHOVE students at the work site each week since mid-October.
“Now they are working on electrical modules and pulling wire,” said McCabe, who has served essentially as the general contractor for the solar panel project.
Lian Niu, one of the co-founders of Eitri Foundry and its CEO, said affordable, clean energy is “something our world needs” and this local project has brought community members together. He also said he is impressed that high school students have a “deep understanding” of renewable energy and they have “an earnest hunger” about it.
“It’s something we’re proud of,” Niu added. “Everybody wants to part of it.”
Construction, expected to last about 3 1/2 months, started Sept. 14. The Monroeville Solar Park (MSP) is expected to be operational for more than 35 years.
One of the unique features is the pollinator program by The Ohio State University. According to a fact sheet, “the MSP will utilize a native wildflower mix as ground cover, which will serve as (a) supportive habitat for local bee populations as well as other pollinator species and provide beautiful aesthetics.”
At the suggestion of Monroeville Village Administrator Tom Gray, the MSP will have a 360-degree, controllable live-feed camera which has two purposes: Monitor the solar field and keep track of “the clear view of the western horizon to monitor for severe weather.” This part of the project is in coordination with the local SKYWARN team and NOAA Weather Service in Cleveland.
“We have been bringing juniors and seniors. I try to bring both classes about two days a week. Obviously, we want to take advantage of the work that’s available,” Ragnoni said.
“They have had a hand in just about everything,” he added. “A lot of good opportunities (are) out there for them.”
One element about the project that students have learned is “trade coordination,” essentially the details it takes to get a job completed. Senior Andrew Breslin, whose home school is Monroeville, said “it’s all about team-building” to tackle a single goal.
“It’s complicated and fun to learn,” added the son of Dr. Patrick Breslin and Michelle Breslin.
Meisler, the son of Matt and Megan, has learned about DC voltage and the process of converting solar energy into what residents can use in their homes.
Not only are the EHOVE students receiving real-world experience, McCabe said he hopes this “plants the seeds for the future” about the importance of renewable energy.
“Gas and oil will be phased out,” he added. “Renewable energy will go to the forefront.”
Andrew Breslin, when asked about the likely dominance of renewable engergy, said “right now it’s not at its full potential,” but he believes it eventually will be substantial enough to overtake natural-gas energy.
While EHOVE students have worked in a lot of residential and small-scale commercial projects over the years, EHOVE Assistant Director Matt Ehrhardt said the MSP allows the teenagers to be involved in a large-scale solar project. He also said that’s especially helpful for the seniors who can take that experience and show potential employers they have used “green energy” at an actual job site.