The grants, to be distributed by nonprofit organization N.C. GreenPower, allow funding for educational packages which include solar panels, educational training and monitoring equipment.
“We’re looking for probably about 10 schools that are served by Duke Energy, either in the Triangle or west of Raleigh,” said Randy Wheeless, spokesperson for Duke Energy.
Wheeless said the main focus will be on schools that have previously shown an interest in solar power, as well as schools in disadvantaged or lower income areas.
N.C. GreenPower has had a similar program for the past two years where schools had to provide half of the funding on their own, said Katie Lebrato, spokesperson for N.C. GreenPower.
“It’s something most schools couldn’t afford otherwise, so we’re really excited about being able to reach more students,” Lebrato said.
The monitoring equipment included in the grants allows children to see how much energy is produced and the influence of weather on the panels, she said.
Wheeless said the program will focus on education, and the panels are not likely to provide significant power for the school.
“Hopefully they’ll remember those lessons as they go forward in their education,” he said.
Dana Haine, K-12 science education manager at the UNC Institute for the Environment, said in an email students she has worked with have expressed genuine interest in renewable energy projects.
“I see this as an opportunity for teachers at schools who receive the panels to integrate solar energy data into instruction and ultimately increase student awareness and understanding about the benefits and limitations of solar energy,” Haine said.
Thomas Meyer, UNC’s Arey distinguished professor of chemistry, said the project is part of a bigger picture.
“We should admire them for doing it, because that will inspire people to pay more attention to where power comes from,” he said.
This announcement comes shortly after Duke Energy settled a 15-year-old legal case filed by the U.S. government for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act.
Wheeless said Duke Energy decided with the EPA to help fund programs with positive impacts on the environment.
“It is a nice way for them to make a positive statement,” Meyer said.
Lebrato said the panels will have a lasting impact.
“The solar installations will be there for years to come, so we know that will only exponentially serve to educate more and more students as they come through each class,” she said.