Ten Schools Win Money For Solar Energy Projects

02/19/10 5:50PM By Ross Sneyd
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(Host) Ten schools across Vermont will get $50,000 apiece to install small-scale solar energy projects.

As VPR's Ross Sneyd reports, what sets the projects apart is who designed them.

(Sneyd) Nathan Watts helped come up with the project for Essex Junction. He's 13.

(Watts) "The idea for the project itself, it wasn't supplied by a teacher. It was all us. We were all really interested in this same thing. And we just got together and said, ‘Hey, wouldn't it be cool if we could put solar panels on the roof of the school.' And so we just decided to go ahead and do it."

(Sneyd) The Edge Academy in Essex Junction is one of 10 schools that will have small solar arrays installed soon, thanks in large part to federal grants. The schools themselves won't have to put up any money, unless they want a bigger project.

Silva Warren worked on the project that will go up at the Folsom School in South Hero.

(Warren) "We're fitting what we get to the money. And we're hoping we can get a rebate. I'm not sure where it's from. But it's a rebate, I think it's $5,000 to $8,000 is the maximum."

(Sneyd) Senator Bernie Sanders created the program that's providing the $500,000 for the schools.

He hosted a lunch at a Burlington elementary school to celebrate the projects and conducted a seminar of sorts with the students on renewable energy.

(Sanders) "Who can tell me what we mean by energy, what does it mean to be energy efficient? ... Come on up."

(Student) "Energy efficiency is using the energy we have as well as we can so we can get the most amount out of the small amount that we need."

(Sneyd) Sanders soon learned that, to win the money, these kids have spent a lot of time researching energy.

And that, he says, is as valuable as the small amounts of power that will be produced from their projects.

(Sanders) "Oh, it's just extraordinary. Many of these kids have actually worked on the grant proposals themselves. ... I think what we're doing in the schools is getting kids excited about solar in particular, sustainable energy in general. I think that's a tremendous learning opportunity."

(Sneyd) Some of the schools also see this as a learning opportunity for their communities.

Jen Stainton is a science teacher at the Woodstock Union Middle-High School.

(Stainton) "It makes a statement, a large statement, that our community wants to hear, that our school cares about sustainability, actually really wants renewable resources on our school. So we're really answering the community call for that."

(Sneyd) Most of the schools will be able to generate less than 10 kilowatts of electricity from their systems. That will account for only 5 percent or so of most of the schools' total demand.

But some of the budding entrepreneurs and engineers at the schools have even grander plans to generate more energy.

Just ask Nathan Watts from Essex Junction.

(Nathan) "We're really just trying to get as much money as possible because the more the better, really."

(Sneyd) Green Mountain Power is chipping in a few thousand. The students are also looking at an incentive from the state and may apply for more grants to expand their project.

For VPR News, I'm Ross Sneyd.

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