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A Bozeman School District club’s efforts to get solar panels for a building is moving forward following a presentation to the school board.

The Bozeman Solar Schools Club has been raising money for solar panels for Bozeman High School for the last three years and presented solar options to the school board in December.

The students outlined two solar array options for the high school, a 50-kilowatt system that would allow it put energy back into the grid and a 200-300 kilowatt system that would essentially allow the school to operate off the grid.

“With this resource that literally comes up every single day, why not make the most of it? It doesn’t have a negative impact on our ecosystem and it helps it to thrive so why not make the most of a constant resource,” junior Olivia Yochim said in an interview.

The district already has elementary schools and a middle school using a 50-kilowatt system, according to Miles McGeehan, Bozeman High science teacher and advisor for the solar club.

“That’s a suitable size for those size buildings but our building is like a small city. There’s quite a large energy demand whether its weekend tournaments for basketball or wrestling or football games for Friday night lights,” McGeehan said.

“A 50 kilowatt array would be a drop in the bucket for the energy pull of the building.”

The club, which has around 20 students from both high schools, spun out of a service program called AP with WE, which encourages students to apply what they’re learning in AP classes to the real world. The senior members of the club were sophomores in McGeehan’s AP Biology class when the club started.

“It would hard to be in here preparing for your future while also knowing that the school was producing so much CO2 and using so much energy,” senior Liza Huggins said.

Huggins said other clubs and school departments like robotics and engineering have also been interested in the hands-on learning opportunities a solar array at the school could present.

While the group is still awaiting a response from the school board, the students have their eye toward future fundraising. The group has $28,000 in their club account from fundraising efforts in the last three years, including an annual holiday wreath sale.

“Ultimately, the amount of money we’ve raised is, I think, quite impressive considering we’re just a few students who meet once a week,” senior Marika Schultz said. “We have the opportunity to make a huge impact not only in our school community but also in the Bozeman community.”

Its next big fundraising effort will be a silent auction on Earth Day, and students are in the process of collecting donations. Last Earth Day, the Big Sky Wind Drinkers’ Run for the Sun raised money for the solar club.

Many of the students who spoke to the Chronicle highlighted their concerns over the climate crisis and said the club is a way for them to feel like they’re doing something.

“The club was a good opportunity to feel like I was actually helping and trying to get solar panels on the school was a tangible goal we could accomplish,” junior Ellie Cornish said.

For some students, their experience in the club has helped shape what career paths they want to take after high school.

“Getting to work with the district engineers over the last couple months and creating plans for what solar could look like on our school has led me down a path of looking at colleges that offer great environmental engineering programs,” Schultz said.

The club has also been an up-close look at the often slow movement of climate change policies.

“It’s shown the obstacles people face when they’re trying to make a change. It’s not just rapid which is why we need a lot of support from the community,” Yochim said.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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