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Clearlake – Clear views for solar

Story input provided by Nola

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I am a teacher at the Clearlake Community School in Clearlake, California. I love living around the lake and having the lake as a center for our community as well as for neighboring communities like Lakeport and Lucerne and Kelseyville. The lake connects us and holds us together. I love having my friends and my family all living in and around this wonderful creation of nature. In the morning the sunlight hits the water and there is a mist that rises that you would have to see to understand. And every sunny day the lake is this wonderful blue color made vibrant by the yellow sun and the blue sky.

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It is not a perfect circle in shape and the shoreline is varied and some places there are houses and bridges and other places there are just fish and birds. The lake is not a human invention, but rather a natural phenomenon. There are many lakes around the United States and around the world, but each lake is unique. Our lake is unique. And Clearlake is a beautiful place to live and work because almost wherever we go we can see the lake in the background.

My “people” have been driving around and living along the perimeter and boating on this wonderful lake since before I was born and they will do so long after I am gone. My friends live here. Few manmade structures offer us such a connection to each other as this clear lake. But I am gradually starting to get used to one manmade structure, the solar electricity panels in our “solar on a stick” pole mounted PV system. It is kind of an odd shape and some people might say it looks like a flower or a tree. It never moves and there is nothing turning and there is nothing burning inside. It is like a rock, but it is becoming familiar to me. I am getting comfortable with it. It is becoming part of our community.

This solar electricity system reminds me of the lake. The solar panels are arranged into an array, as a group of panels, and the array sits at the top of the pole at the school and collects sunlight just like the lake. And the array is blue just like the lake. Every morning the sun hits the solar panels and it wakes up and starts to make electricity. At night, the sun goes dark and the solar panels too go to sleep. Both the solar panels and the lake appear to be quiet, but there is life in both. The solar panels are generating electricity for our school and that electricity helps to power our lights, our computers, our telephones, our televisions, our microwave ovens, our televisions and the fans that move the heated air around in the winter and the cool air around in the winter.
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Electricity may be invisible, but it is one of the most important parts of our community and in many ways it connects us to the outside world in the same way a road or river connects us. The lake has fish and birds and people and plants and trees all depending on it for life. All of us live here because of the lake and tourists come here to look at and fish in and boat on top of the lake. The more I think about it the more I find the solar electricity system at our school on top of that pole reminds me of our wonderful lake. One of the things that I have always wanted each of our students to understand is how we must protect the lake from pollution. Now what I also want them to understand is that the solar panels on the top of that pole help us protect the lake as well as the air we breathe and the land we walk on.

The grant that enabled us to get the solar array came from PG&E. The Foundation for Environmental Education helped us with the installation and NEED helped us with the teaching part of the project. We have a live data collection system that enables anyone to look on line and see how much electricity we are creating for our school at any time of the day.

The PG&E Solar School Program is a nice project for our in-classroom teaching because it gives us a tool for teaching math and science and art and social science. It helps our students understand that it is possible for a small group of kids in Clearlake, California to generate electricity. A multi-billion power plant is not the only way to generate electricity. All we need is a few solar panels on the top of the pole. Of course, to generate all of the electricity we use in Clearlake we will need a lot more panels, but how many and where they might go and how much they will cost is all part of an educational exercise. And for the next generation that we are teaching, it will not be “either fossil or solar” or “nuclear or wind” but rather how to use each fuel source to take advantage of its strengths and to minimize its disadvantages. Those won’t be easy decisions and this project will help our students understand the question a lot more than students who have never seen a solar electricity system work.

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So just like we use the lake as a teaching tool to help them understand how powerful this large body of water is and why we must protect it while we use it, the PV panels help us teach them how important it is for us to protect our environment while we live in it and while we use it. I also like it because every day when I go to school I love driving by the lake as it wakes up.  Every day, when I get to school, I love seeing that blue solar array on the top of that pole starting its day as well. And more and more of my friends and family are starting to notice it to. Hopefully, in the near future, we will all be so used to seeing solar panels on every building in Clearlake that people will stop paying any attention to our solar on a stick. But I will notice it. I will always be aware of both the lake and now the solar panels year in and year out doing their jobs like I am doing mine.

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