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NC GreenPower announces grant recipients for solar schools

EdNC is running a series of articles this week exploring school facilities as opportunities for savings, reinvestment, and education.

In October 2003, NC GreenPower was launched to supplement the state’s existing electric supply with more green power – that is, energy generated from renewable energy sources like the sun, wind, water, and organic matter. Though there are more than 100 programs across the nation, NC GreenPower is unique: the first statewide, multi-utility, nonprofit renewable energy program in the nation.

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Supported by voluntary donations from North Carolinians who contribute through their utility bills, NC GreenPower’s first renewable energy projects began coming online in 2004. Fast forward to today and North Carolina boasts a ranking of 2nd in the nation for solar photovoltaic (PV) installations. Over the last decade, NC GreenPower and their 10,000+ donors have supported more than 950 renewable energy and carbon offset projects across the state, providing nearly $7.7 million in incentive payments to them. This has resulted in the generation of 667 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of clean, green energy sent to the local grid and the mitigation of more than 68 million pounds of harmful greenhouse gases from hog waste and landfill methane capture projects.

At the organization’s 10 year anniversary in 2013, the Board of Directors began a two-year strategic planning process to study the potential of transitioning the program into one that supports solar PV projects that benefit the overall local community. Through a series of educator focus groups held over the last year, NC GreenPower found there is a need in our schools for more hands-on experiences with real world connections.  

NC GreenPower Solar Schools was introduced on April 1, 2015. This pilot program will use a portion of current donations to provide grants for the installation of small solar PV (3-5 kW) at North Carolina schools. The Solar Schools pilot offers 50 percent (up to $10,000) of a project’s cost in matching funds to K-12 schools who cannot afford solar PV technology, giving teachers valuable tools to educate students about renewable energy. The State Employees Credit Union (SECU) Foundation is partnering to provide a matching challenge grant to increase the solar PV systems from 3 kW to 5 kW. All K-12 schools were encouraged to apply and the positive response received was an indication of strong interest in the program.

“We weren’t sure what to expect for our first year, but we were very pleased with the number of applicants and the geographic, economic and grade level diversity of the schools who applied,” said Vicky McCann, vice president of NC GreenPower.

The NC GreenPower Board of Directors created a review committee that met over the summer to evaluate applications and make selections for the pilot. The four selected schools are:

Charles E. Jordan High School, Durham County

East Columbus High School, Columbus County

Meadowview Magnet Middle School, Surry County

New Bern High School, Craven County

Any K-12 school in North Carolina was eligible to apply, though special emphasis was made to target Tier 1 counties with the most need. In addition to receiving a matching grant, NC GreenPower will assist the school with raising the balance of funds required with marketing and social media campaigns. As part of the pilot, NC GreenPower will also provide real-time monitoring equipment and develop curriculum and lesson plans for educators to use across a variety of subjects, providing a hands-on experience for their students. McCann states, “Our goal is to provide teachers and students with a really fantastic educational tool that will serve the school and the community for years to come.”

Over the next two years, the SECU Foundation will provide a total investment of up to $140,000, awarding a $10,000 matching challenge grant to 14 K-12 public schools that meet NC GreenPower’s program requirements for the installation of a pole-mounted solar PV system on school campuses. The SECU Foundation’s matching challenge grant will help qualify each school for a 5 kW solar array system, which will serve as an educational tool in the classroom, as well as make an energy impact that will likely produce enough renewable energy to power a school’s main office. The solar array will produce an estimated 6,570 kilowatt hours with a potential cost savings of $657 annually.

For updates about the pilot, visit the website: www.ncgreenpower.org/solar-schools-pilot/

NC GreenPower Solar Schools grants 

Citizens have a little box on their power bills where they can buy green power for $4, unfortunately few knew where this investment went or how it worked. In the past this money was used as seed money for new renewable energy projects. As renewable energy takes hold in NC’s economy NC GreenPower is now dedicating half of all raised dollars to school-based solar projects. The pilot class of four schools will be announced at the end of August along with SECU’s long term matching grants over the next few years. 

Katie Shepherd Lebrato

Katie Shepherd Lebrato is the marketing and communications manager for NC Green Power.