Following a Federal Settlement, Duke Energy Is Funding Solar Schools across N.C.—Including in Durham | News

Following a Federal Settlement, Duke Energy Is Funding Solar Schools across N.C.—Including in Durham

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NC Green Power, a Raleigh nonprofit, is partnering with Duke Energy to provide 100 percent of the cost of solar for ten schools in the Duke Energy Carolinas territory—essentially, from Durham to west of Charlotte along I-85.

The program stems from a September 2015 settlement between Duke and the federal government over the energy giant’s alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. Duke will invest $300,000 in solar photovoltaic systems for schools—which must apply by December 2—as part of a $4.4 million settlement that commits Duke to funding environmental projects.

Duke will base its solar PV project on NC Green Power’s Solar Schools pilot program, which launched last year. The pilot provides matching grants worth up to $10,000 for up to ten North Carolina K–12 schools per year to put solar panels on their campuses. (A matching grant from the State Employees Credit Union bumps that amount to $20,000.) NC Green Power will administer the program just like its own statewide pilot program, but Duke will provide the funds.

To date, NC Green Power has partnered with nine schools, including Jordan High School and the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics.

Central Park School for Children will be next. To do that, the school had to raise $12,400, which will go toward a five-kilowatt solar array—enough to power the school’s office or save it $650 a year, says NC Green Power spokeswoman Katie Lebrato. NC Green Power will provide a pole-mounted solar system as well as a solar-energy curriculum for teachers.

This isn’t Central Park’s first foray into solar. Four years ago, Central Park installed a PV system for one fourth-grade classroom, which now functions completely off the grid.

“We started with the idea of just having a small off-the-grid system to power some of our computers, and we launched a Kickstarter campaign,” says Aaron Sebens, the school’s elementary media and tech director. “There was a huge response, and we ended up raising enough money to take the entire classroom off the grid.”

Lebrato says schools are an ideal market for renewable energy because multiple classes of students will be able to see and experience the panels firsthand. Since the beginning of the NC Green Power program last year, there have been applicants from Mount Airy, Wilmington, Durham, and New Bern. One school, Meadowview Magnet Middle School in Mount Airy, has finished its installation; the other three from 2015 are still waiting for permits.

“Some of these rural areas, this is really where the only opportunity they have to be involved with renewable energy,” Lebrato says. “We felt like it’s a good opportunity to not only teach the students, but get the parents, community leaders, and businesses involved.”

Central Park students will use the money the solar panels save to manage a portfolio of microloans that fund renewable energy projects around the world, according to the school’s fundraising website.

“Every month we will take the money earned by the panels and invest it in clean energy projects on Kiva,” says middle school tech director MJ Rosensweet, referring to a nonprofit that allows borrowers from across the globe to apply for loans. “They will start out as sixty dollars a month but as the loans get repaid will grow into several thousand dollars.”

“The solar we produce will not just be used for our school, but will be on the grid and available to everyone,” says Rosensweet. “While we won’t be producing a tremendous amount of energy, we hope this will inspire our students and families to understand and appreciate the benefits of solar power.”

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