Willmar Junior High students, teacher gear up in effort to raise money for solar panels

WILLMAR -- Willmar Junior High science teacher Randy Frederickson would be happy next spring to sport a head full of shocking pink hair. Or to endure some other embarrassment his students choose for him.

WILLMAR -- Willmar Junior High science teacher Randy Frederickson would be happy next spring to sport a head full of shocking pink hair. Or to endure some other embarrassment his students choose for him.

It would mean that Frederickson had reached his goal of riding his bicycle for the 5-mile round trip to school at least 100 days during the school year, a total of 500 miles, to raise money for solar panels on the school's roof.

Junior High students are preparing to seek donations from the community to help pay for the dozen solar panels to be installed on the roof above the school's main entrance.

The solar panels have a total cost of $25,800, but rebates from the state of Minnesota and Willmar Municipal Utilities have brought the cost down to about $17,000.

After some early donations, the project still needs to raise about $14,100.


The goal is to have the panels paid for and installed by Earth Day next spring.

It could be a first step in the community's own fight against global warming, Frederickson said.

The effort will allow Frederickson to burn fewer fossil fuels himself while contributing to the project.

"This is an important thing for me," he said. "I want to do more than just write a check."

Frederickson's Cycle for Solar effort already has a big-name supporter. When explorer Will Steger spoke in Willmar earlier this month, he pledged a donation and his foundation's support to Frederickson's plan.

Another donor has pledged to contribute 50 cents per mile.

If he meets his personal goal, Frederickson said, he's promised his students that "I'll publicly humiliate myself."

The kids will vote on the method of humiliation. "We've had all kinds of ideas," he said.


The idea for the solar panels came from Frederickson's students and the Schools for Energy Efficiency program coordinated by Karen Hilding. In less than 2 years, the program has saved the district more than $80,000 in energy costs.

Classes at the Junior High and at other Willmar schools will be able to monitor the system on computers and learn about solar power. The benefit for students and for the environment makes it a worthwhile project for her program to tackle, Hilding said.

"If we put them on the school, it would be the only school I would know of that had solar panels," said Drew Larson, an 8th grader. "They would look pretty cool on the school."

There is a study underway about placing a wind turbine at Ridgewater College. If the college has wind power, "why can't we have solar panels," said 8th grader Emily Nadolny.

Drew and Emily are some of the students who will be making presentations to local service clubs and businesses this fall.

While they haven't formally studied global warming in their science classes yet, the students are aware of the issue. "I enjoy our environment," Emily said, and she tries to do her part at home by making sure lights are turned off when everyone leaves a room.

"We have to change the way we generate electricity," said Dave Opsahl of Willmar Municipal Utilities. "If we can generate electricity with solar, we don't have to burn coal."

The panels will generate just a tiny portion of the electricity used by the Junior High. But over 30 years of use, the electricity from the panels will prevent the discharge of 45 tons of carbon dioxide, 450 pounds of nitrous oxide and 300 pounds of sulfur dioxide, he said.


The south side of the Junior High roof provides an ideal location for the solar panels, and they will be visible to the community, Hilding said.

When the sun shines on the azure blue panels, "they'll be an eye catcher," Opsahl said.

Early donations include $1,000 from United Way's Youth as Resources, $500 from Bremer Bank and a pledge from Duininck Bros. to sponsor a panel at a cost of $1,437.

Donations for the project may be dropped off at the Junior High or mailed to Junior High Solar Panels, c/o Willmar Junior High, 201 Willmar Ave. S.E., Willmar, MN 56201.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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