NCSEA had the opportunity to talk with Katie Lebrato, Marketing Communications Director at NC GreenPower, a close partner organization of NCSEA.
Headquartered in Raleigh, NC GreenPower is a nonprofit organization that supports renewable energy by funding carbon offset projects and providing solar installation grants. This blog feature specifically focuses on NC GreenPower's Solar+ Schools program, which provides grants to K-12 schools across North Carolina. In addition to solar panels, the grants provided under this program also cover a weather station and data monitoring, along with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curricula training for teachers.
The Solar+ Schools Program
The Solar+ Schools program began as a pilot project in 2015, one of the first and only programs of its kind in the country, matching schools’ own fundraising efforts up to $10,000. The nature of the grant has changed slightly since those early days, but the source of the money has remained the same, coming from donations and a partnership with the State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU) Foundation. This year, NC GreenPower awarded 20 schools from around the state with SECU Foundation funding and announced its newest recipients in June. To date, the organization has awarded 68 schools from 46 counties across the state.
Katie Lebrato, Marketing Communications Director at NC GreenPower, explained that the main goal of the program is to bring awareness of clean energy to schools and communities. She went on to emphasize, “NC GreenPower wanted to have a bigger impact on communities and directly connect more folks with the benefits of installing solar.”
Each year, faculty from awarded schools receive solar energy training from the National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project, a nonprofit organization that creates STEM curricula designed to engage and educate students and teachers about energy. The Solar+ Schools program has already trained 237 teachers and provided 56,000 students with STEM education focused on solar energy.
In fact, the program has been so successful, it’s inspired some students to even switch their areas of study to pursue a career in solar and energy efficiency.
Aside from the educational and career benefits, the program also brings energy savings to the schools after they receive the solar installation. As part of the program, awarded schools submit energy reports to show how much solar they have generated. Lebrato reported that the schools have produced a combined total of 720,245 kilowatt hours of energy as of May 2022, saving a total of $68,000! The savings created by these installations can then be reallocated towards other important school initiatives, explained Lebrato.
Fundraising remains one of the main challenges for schools during the process. As a stipulation to receiving grant funding, schools are required to raise a portion of the costs through their own fundraising efforts. Because of this, NC GreenPower is intentional about supporting schools by sharing tips and lessons from other successful campaigns led by students, teachers, and PTA members from around the state. Lebrato made it clear: “It’s been really rewarding for us to see the passion that some of the people have for solar energy and how a community can support the school.”
What’s Next for the Program?
Moving forward, NC GreenPower aims to expand its reach to schools in all 100 counties across North Carolina. With additional funding, the organization hopes to provide more educational materials to each school, enabling more teachers to share the benefits of clean energy with their students.
NC GreenPower’s work to increase solar at schools supports NCSEA’s goals of powering the state with clean energy and building a clean energy economy. As students see the power of solar, they can feel inspired to pursue careers in the clean energy field that has already exceeded 99,000 jobs in North Carolina alone.
Learn more about NC GreenPower and its Solar+ Schools program here. Also, check out the organization’s FAQ page to become more familiar with the program!