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NMSU-Las Vegas Memorial Middle School greenhouse switches on solar power

LAS VEGAS - New Mexico State University's Memorial Middle School Agriculture Science Center in Las Vegas is going green.

Las Vegas Memorial Middle School Principal Sandra Madrid pulls the switch to connect the schools solar panel to the utility company's grid. The solar panel will provide electricity for the New Mexico State University Memorial Middle School Agriculture Science Center greenhouse that is located on the school's campus. The solar panel is one of several ways NMSU faculty member Peter Skelton, director of the middle school agriculture science center, plans to demonstrate sustainability with renewable energy. (NMSU Photo by Jane Moorman)

School Principal Sandra Madrid recently flipped the switch connecting the school's greenhouse solar panel to the Public Service of New Mexico's grid during a renewable energy demonstration day.

Peter Skelton, NMSU faculty member and director of the Memorial Agriculture Science Center, wants the students attending Memorial Middle School to see alternative energy sources in action.

"We're using agriculture as a platform to teach science, but the broader context we're interested in is sustainability and renewable energy. With the prediction that we have 100 years left of fossil fuels, it means we're going to have to look for different ways and technologies that we can use to support ourselves," Skelton said. "My goal is that we have 100 percent of our energy used in the greenhouse be produced by sustainable means."

In its second year of operation, the collaborative program between the school district and NMSU College of Agriculture and Home Economics is well on the way to Skelton's goal.

"We have a demonstration solar panel that can produce up to 750 watts of electricity for the greenhouse usage and another smaller solar panel that runs a pump to distribute the water from our rainwater recycling system. We plan to add a wind turbine in the near future," he said.

The school is one of five in the state chosen by the New Mexico Department of Energy and Minerals to receive the larger solar panel. Energy Concepts of Las Vegas won the bid to install the 750 watt solar panel.

A New Mexico Pubic Education Department grant allowed the school to purchase rainwater runoff storage tanks, which gather water from the greenhouse roof, and a smaller solar panel with pump to move the gathered water to the garden area.

"What better renewable source for watering our outdoor gardens then with the rainwater runoff?" said Skelton.

In an effort to get fifth grade students who will be attending Memorial Middle School next year interested in science and technology, Shirley Marlow, 4-H Science, Technology, Engineering and Math specialist and Skelton organized the Flip the Switch Day.

"Our students are learning about photovoltaic (solar) panels, what they're made of and how they work. The students are also learning how batteries are charged using solar panels. We wanted to demonstrate that education to the fifth graders so they will become excited about what they will be learning in the near future," Marlow said.

In preparation for the day, students built wind turbine generators from kits made by the company Kid Wind, which were provided by Los Alamos National Labs Foundation.

During the Flip the Switch Day activities, the students participated in several renewable energy and agriculture activities.

The fifth and sixth grade students watched cookies bake in a solar oven, saw how much power was generated from the wind turbine models, saw water flowing from a solar powered pump and learned about the school's composting with worms project.

They also planted nasturtium seeds in pots that will be cared for by Skelton and the sixth grade students until the fifth graders return for their orientation day. They will be able to take home the plants to their mothers for Mother's Day.