During last week's meeting where the trustees reviewed the proposal, Deborah Wrobel, dean of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, explained how the system would work.

Using a hand-generated wheel attached to a light bulb on a wooden board, Wrobel said, traditional energy is created from the interaction of a large magnet and coils of wire on a large scale at power plants. Steam spins the magnet, she continued, and creates a reaction with the wire, which gives us electricity.

To boil water to create steam, most of that energy comes from burning coal and a smaller portion comes from nuclear power and/or gas.

How a solar panel works, Wrobel explained, is with layers of silicone - one with a negative charge and another with a positive charge.

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The sun makes the electrons on the top layer of silicone on the solar panels move to other side and vice versa.

This flow of electrons is captured and generates electricity. The difference between the two systems is that a power plant generates an alternating current, Wrobel said, and solar panels create a direct current.

Wiring hooked up to each panel goes through conventional circuit breakers and makes its way to a conduit, which would go to an electrical room.

"I'm sure that as technology changes we're going to change with the time, too," Johnson said. "That's part of the sustainability mission of this college."

In June 2011, Harford County Public Schools activated a 1.2-megawatt multi-school solar program, very similar to what HCC plans to implement.

The school system stated then its program is expected to generate more than 28 million kilowatt hours of energy over 20 years.

"Covering six school properties with more than 6,400 photovoltaic panels, Harford County Public Schools paid no upfront capital costs for the solar energy deployments that promise to reduce overall energy costs with long-term predictable energy pricing while reducing the county's energy demand from the grid," according to a June 2011 summary of the program written by the school system.

Bel Air, Edgewood, Fallston and Aberdeen high schools all have solar panels as does Patterson Mill middle/high school and Magnolia Middle School.

"The alternative energy program has resulted saving of approximately $30,000 for this first year," Andrew Cassilly, the school system's resource conservation manager, wrote in an e-mail Monday.

Cassilly added that the program has educational value as well, allowing teachers and students to view how much power the sites are generating in real time via a website.

"This is a great real life example for teachers to use in their lessons," Cassilly wrote.