By the end of next week, 216 solar panels will be soaking up the sun on top of the Naumes Fine Arts and Athletic Center at St. Mary's School.

By the end of next week, 216 solar panels will be soaking up the sun on top of the Naumes Fine Arts and Athletic Center at St. Mary's School.

On Tuesday, crews with EcoSolar, a Klamath Falls-based contractor, began the arduous process of installing the 60-kilowatt solar array on the building's south-facing roof.

Chris Johnson, facilities manager and head of St. Mary's middle school, said the two-year-old building was designed with a rooftop solar system in mind.

"The pitch of the roof is almost perfect," he said. "And it faces true south, and the incline is almost ideal based on our geographic latitude."

The project is funded in part by a $150,000 Pacific Power Blue Sky Renewable Energy grant, as well as by a $50,000 incentive awarded by the Energy Trust of Oregon.

The school invested about $135,000 in the engineering of the building so it could support the panels.

Each panel is 40 inches wide and 66 inches long and weighs about 47 pounds, said Eric Andrews, a solar electrician and owner of EcoSolar.

"Just heavy enough to make you appreciate the end of the day," he said Thursday morning as he watched his crew carry three panels across the metal roofing.

The solar array is expected to produce about 90,000 kilowatt-hours. Last November, the building used about 16,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, Johnson said.

"It won't completely cover the building's energy use, but it will offset it significantly," he said. "During the summer months, we'll have more daylight, generating more energy, so at that time the building's energy use is low because it is essentially unoccupied."

"The excess power will flow back into the distribution grid and become part of the energy supply that other customers, including St. Mary's, can take advantage of," he added.

The school will save about $1,000 a year using solar-supplied energy, but that is nothing compared to the environmental and educational benefits that come from the project, Johnson said.

"It wasn't just about the net metering benefits back to us," he said. "It was about a commitment to stewardship and a commitment to education as we teach our students and other people in the valley about alternative energy sources."

St. Mary's contracted with Bonneville Environmental Foundation to access a real-time, online database — part of the Solar 4R Schools program — that tracks the energy being generated by the solar array. This data will be available on St. Mary's and Bonneville's websites.

Bonneville also provided curriculum about renewable energy sources that the school will incorporate into its science classes starting this fall. Johnson said middle school students will have the opportunity to study the generation data collected, while older students in Advanced Placement science classes will look at the physics of what's happening and how a solar panel takes light from the sun and creates usable electricity.

Solar energy is an important concept for kids to understand, Andrews said.

"It's going to be a huge part of our future and these kids' future, as well," he said.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or Follow her at