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Olney grad's dream becomes reality with installation of solar panels on dorm

By AARON SCHULTZ Olney Friends School Published: March 15, 2017 12:00 AM
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During her four years at Olney Friends School, Kayla Kellar, now an urban planning major at The University of Cincinnati, earned the affectionate nickname "mom" from her peers due to her maturity, work-ethic, and overall pleasant and comforting demeanor. As a senior, she was a leader, a spokesperson, a role model, and a friend. For future generations of Olney students, however, Kayla may best be remembered as the student who inspired the installation of solar paneling on the Girls Dorm in early 2017.

In the months leading up to Kayla's graduation from Olney is May 2015, she was hard at work on her 23-page "Graddy" essay titled "Olney Friends School and Solar Energy: A Case Study." Across nearly two-dozen pages, Kayla explored the science and politics behind solar energy, the school's historical commitment to renewable and environmentally-conscious energy efforts, and the challenges that could prevent her idea from becoming a reality. She cited the school's decision to decline the sale of mineral rights in 2013 as a particular impediment to financing such an ambitious project -- a decision that certainly aligned with the school's Quaker values and ongoing fidelity to environmental stewardship but potentially left a seven-figure monetary compensation on the table.

While Kayla realized the project would not come to fruition during her tenure as an Olney student, she graduated with the confidence that her efforts were not futile. On page 17 of her Graddy, Kayla wrote, "however, the work done on my Girls' Dorm Solar Panel Project proposal will not go to waste or be forgotten when I leave. In the coming years, the school, under the new headship of Ken Hinshaw, will continue to pursue renewable energy installments in an active way."

Nearly 17 months later, Olney's partnership with Paradise Energy Solutions brought Kayla's vision to life. As predicted in her essay, the solar paneling will service nearly one third of the school's energy needs.

Below, Kayla describes the multi-year process that led to the project's completion earlier this month:

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The summer between my junior and senior years at Olney, I attended Foresight Leadership and Sustainability Initiative (now called Foresight Prep) at Oberlin College. Developing knowledge and leadership skills in the field of sustainability was the focus of the program. We spoke with professionals, took field trips to see real sustainability leaders and projects in practice, and completed an analysis on biking in Oberlin through interviewing stakeholders in the community and then coming up with strategies to overcome barriers to increasing bike ridership. As the program came to a close, we discussed what leadership and sustainability could look like in our own communities. We covered tools and leadership strategies that could be useful for social and environmental change-making. This helped to break down the complexity of sustainability problems to seem like solvable situations. This is what inspired me to do a solar project at Olney.

I came back in the fall looking for areas of improvement of the school's sustainability. At the time, we had just chosen to not sign an oil and gas lease for reasons of Stewardship. I saw that momentum against high environmental and carbon footprint energy sources as an opportunity for increased support and passion for the implementation of renewable energy sources. While a roof full of solar panels is a high goal to aim for as a 17-year- old, I saw it as feasible. I felt it was incredibly important for Olney to be able to produce some of its own energy and lower its carbon footprint. As a school, a solar array is a great teaching tool to understand how energy production works and to show sustainability in practice.

Reducing the impact we as humans have on this Earth is vital to its health. We have not done so well with sustainability in the past hundred years or so, and we need to be investing in changing our habits so that future generations have a successful, functioning planet to live on.

Originally I was going to do the project on its own, but as I spoke with some of my classmates and teachers, some suggested I turn it into my graddy topic. Outside of working with various people in the Olney administration team, maintenance, the Board, the energy consultant, and the directors of FLSI for potential funding ideas, I researched. I looked into the politics of solar power in Ohio and the US, the technical aspect of solar panels and their systems, advantages and disadvantages of multiple renewable energy sources, past solar projects at Olney on the Boys' Dorm, and funding options. All of that plus some personal inspiration and my observations of what happened with the project and why it went unfunded at the time came together to become my graddy.

At the end of my senior year, I was a bit sad that I was unable to see solar installed at Olney while I was a student, but I understood that I had planted a seed. I could see that this was something the community valued greatly and it would happen when the timing was right. Part of working in sustainability and change-making in general is that sometimes things take time and might not happen as quickly as envisioned. When I received an email in the summer of 2016 regarding an interested investor, I could not have been happier. I was incredibly grateful that the consultant we had worked with my senior year kept us in mind for an investor, almost two years later. During the first week of January, I was back in town and went to see how the work on the panels was going. I dropped by at just the right time and was able to see the completed system and meet the investor, who I was able to thank for making my project possible. I hope that this solar array will show that sustainable changes are possible and spark the mind of another Olney student to create more and greater change either at Olney or beyond.


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