Mount Desert Island High School celebrates going solar Wednesday in a ceremony at the school. Credit: Jennifer Mitchell | Maine Public

More and more schools in Maine are adding solar power to their renewable energy mix. The solar panel array just installed on the roof of Mount Desert Island High School is the largest so far on a public high school in Maine, and will provide more than enough power to meet its demands. Student supporters of the project are hoping that others will be encouraged by its example.

Amid a drum roll and cheers from the crowd Wednesday, MDI High School in Bar Harbor went solar. And the kids here were really, really excited about what that meant.

“We’re the ones that are impacted. This is our future,” senior Thomas Korstanje said. “And it’s our responsibility — along with the responsibility of everyone else — but we need to take part.”

Korstanje said it’s been frustrating to witness the lack of cohesion in government efforts to tackle the issue of climate change.

Junior Stella Walke blames partisan politics.

“The fact that climate change is becoming such a political issue — I don’t understand why,” Walke said. “It’s science, it’s facts. The climate is changing and things are happening. Get rid of all the bias and just focus on the facts and see that things are happening, and that we need to take action to slow the effects of the crisis.”

“This is not a political issue, it’s a human issue,” Korstanje said.

The new 425-kilowatt array installed on the school’s roof by Sundog Solar of Searsport, and facilitated by a local climate action nonprofit, A Climate To Thrive, consists of more than 1,400 panels.

“Yeah, this is not a smoke and mirror … all our energy needs, and then some, are going to be met,” Superintendent of Schools Marc Gousse said.

[Solar arrays will power a Hancock County high school and fishermen’s co-op]

Gousee said the array will generate more than enough power for the school and its 550 students, and will continue to pump clean power onto the grid all summer long. He said supporting clean energy and actually moving the needle on climate change is the main reason behind the effort. In fact, it was inspired by a student’s senior class project in 2017.

But he said it’s also true that the sun is going to be good for the school’s bottom line. “It’s going to mean an impact over the next 20 years, of a savings of more than $1 million — which, when we talk about resources, those are resources that we’re able to look at devoting to other programs and teaching and learning in our communities,” Gousse said

For students focused on climate change, it’s just one example of the kinds of steps that need to be taken if local, state and world climate goals are to be reached. Locally, the group A Climate To Thrive has set a target for the island of Mount Desert to be generating 100 percent of its energy by 2030. This year, the state of Maine adopted goals to reach 80 percent renewable power by that same year, when global warming could reach catastrophic levels, according to a United Nations climate report.

“Even though it seems like this is a hopeless issue — I know I’ve struggled a lot with thinking that: ‘Why am I even doing this? Why am I wasting my prime years of my life thinking about this issue that’s so big?’” sophomore Sirohi Kumar said.

Kumar said changing the big stuff means doing what you can. “These small events, like our ribbon cutting — you know, changing from plastic straws, changing from plastic silverware — these small events really add up and make a change. So even though it feels day-to-day like it’s hopeless, don’t give up.”

Efforts to bolster renewable energy capacity are underway at other public schools as well. Camden Hills Regional High School already has solar panels on its roof, plus a wind turbine. Students at Belfast High School also put forth a proposal this year. And in Portland, the school board has greenlighted a project that would cover up to 80 percent of the district’s energy needs and could potentially save the school system $50,000 per year.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.