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RREAL wraps up central Minn. Solar for Schools installations and adds native vegetation

The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance recently completed a project to install solar arrays at four central Minnesota schools and colleges. Submitted photo1 / 4
A completed solar array now stands at Central Lakes College campus in Brainerd, installed by the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance of Backus. Submitted photo2 / 4
Workers install a solar array at the Staples campus of Central Lakes College. Submitted photo3 / 4
The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance spread native seeds to grow vegetation near its newly installed solar arrays at four central Minnesota schools and colleges. Submitted photo4 / 4

The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance recently completed its regional Solar for Schools project, bringing two more systems online: a 330kW solar array at the Pequot Lakes School District and a 332kW installation spread across four sites at Central Lakes College in Brainerd and Staples.

Combined with the 808kW system at Pine-River Backus, the Solar for Schools project has resulted in nearly 1.5 megawatts of solar at central Minnesota schools, which will be integrated into classes at the schools. These six site-based solar arrays will produce cost effective energy for the schools, freeing up public dollars, a news release stated.

In addition, the ground beneath the solar arrays at Pine River-Backus Schools and the CLC Staples main campus were seeded with native prairie vegetation to attract monarch butterflies and beneficial insect pollinators. The Sand County Foundation supported creating the habitat with funds from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Sand County Foundation works to create pollinator habitat in agricultural areas and under energy infrastructure. The pollinator-friendly plants will provide education opportunities for the schools' ecology and biology classes, the release stated.

"RREAL is proud to complete these projects, and it is timely," stated Jason Edens, RREAL's director, in the release. "The newly updated Minnesota K-12 Science Education Standards will now include renewable energy and pollinator friendly education. We will build on these standards and include site based solar in the curriculum. Today's youth are making tomorrow's energy choices, and students exposed to responsible energy possibilities now will lead the way to a responsible clean energy future."

With the Solar for Schools installations complete, RREAL is focusing on supporting the curriculum that will build on these arrays. This will bring age-appropriate science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, or STEAM, and renewable energy education opportunities to children of all grade levels for years to come, according to the organization. Real-time data from the six regional school solar energy systems will be collected and available at kiosks in every school library and for classroom use.

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

RREAL will host a Solar for Schools ribbon cutting ceremony 2-4:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Pine River-Backus School District, 810 First St. N., Pine River.

For those who want to volunteer or learn more about RREAL, visit www.rreal.org or call 218-947-3779.