Saint Mary’s students are hoping for a surge of supporters — and $20,000 — to help bring solar panels to the Winona campus.

Watt’s the big deal?

According to student organizer Conner Ellinghuysen, the addition of a 16.4-kilowatt system will reduce the university’s carbon footprint, save the university money, and provide educational experiences for students.

The student-led fundraising initiative began with the Legislative Affairs Committee of the Student Senate. Committee members Reikel Biechler, Katie O’Leary, Peter Hegland and Ellinghuysen spent a year developing the idea and proposal.

On Feb. 21, they were given the green light to begin fundraising by Saint Mary’s administration.

“This has been a particularly active and productive Student Senate,” Chris Kendall, vice president for student life, said. “We’ve talked about various initiatives including solar panels in the past, but this group turned the talk into action. They made a proposal in the context of our strategic plan, and we’re proud of what they’ve accomplished.”

The group is partnering with another organization called Minnesota Student Energy Project (MNSEP), which has agreed to fund two-thirds of the $60,000 project.

That leaves a $20,000 fundraising goal. Ellinghuysen said the group would ideally like to raise the money by the end of the school year, so the panels could be installed before school resumes next fall.

Kendall calls it an “ambitious plan.” But he also says, “I wouldn’t bet against them.”

The group is good at selling their product.

Ellinghuysen pointed out that Saint Mary’s is considered one of the greenest Lasallian universities in the U.S.; this project will educate students further on the importance of protecting the environment.

Hegland added that all funding will come from outside sources, and the panels will produce an immediate savings for the university. Early estimates put the energy savings to SMU at 1 percent or higher each year.

Additionally, the 40 panels come with a data collection system. “That was a selling point for the proposal,” Biechler said. “We talked about students using the data in the classrooms, especially the sciences and business departments. There is a whole list of majors who could benefit.”

Science students could study energy output at various times of day or the effect of weather on energy output. Business students might look at doing energy savings analysis studies.

The student group is anxious to shed some light on the subject to potential financial supporters. “We’ve already gotten a lot of student and faculty support,” O’Leary said. “The project has generated a lot of excitement. We just have to turn that support into action.”

For more information, e-mail Ellinghuysen at or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.  Donations can be submitted online or checks can be made out to the Saint Mary’s University Solar Panel Student Initiative and sent to Saint Mary’s at 700 Terrace Heights #21, Winona, Minn. 55987.

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