HUNTINGBURG, Ind. — As sixth-graders from Southridge Middle School wandered through the massive structures, teacher Stephen Longabaugh joked that, back in the day, he used to take a field trip to see a single solar panel and wind turbine. Monday, the entire class was surrounded by nearly 8,000 solar panels.

The students weaved through the Indiana Municipal Power Agency solar park in Huntingburg. The facility has been up and running since early last month. On Oct. 3, ribbons were cut and lessons were learned.

“I thought it would be really small and pretty crowded,” said Jade Rickelman, a SMS student. “But now that I see it, there’s a whole bunch of (panels).”

Renewable and nonrenewable energy is a standard discussed in the school’s sixth-grade science classes. Math and science teacher Beth Meece said she thinks the students are already environmentally minded, but she figured Monday’s tour gave the students a chance to see and hear exactly how clean sources of fuel are helping their community. Longabaugh agreed.

“It’s so much better to have hands-on experience,” Longabaugh said. “We can show pictures and talk about it, but for them to actually see what it looks like and know that it’s actually in their town, that’s really neat.”

On what used to be a cornfield south of West Phoenix Drive on the city’s north side, the panels can power one of Huntingburg’s six power circuits on a sunny day. With factories closed last Sunday, for example, the students heard that the solar park generated enough energy to power 50 Huntingburg houses, a CVS, Huntingburg Country Club and all of Fourth Street downtown.

Sixth-grader Luke Meyer said his favorite part of the trip was learning how the panels actually work. In short, photons — the tiny molecules that comprise sunlight — hit the panels and transfer their energy to loose electrons on the panels’ surface. The solar cell then herds the electrons into an electric current.

Meyer hopes the park will grow in the coming years.

“I think they should’ve made it a little bigger if they could have,” he said. “I think it’s pretty cool that we’re creating energy without any emissions.”

Already Oct. 3, Meece heard students converse about solar power and how it compares to other renewable energy sources; she considered the discussion a sign that the trip was a success and even more reason for classes to return to the facility to learn more.

“It gave the students ideas and helped them generate questions for their future,” she said. “It’s helping them think on another level.”

Source: The Dubois County Herald,

This is an Indiana Exchange story shared by The Dubois County Herald.