Reprinted from the Tideland News
SWANSBORO – Green Power energized the crowd last week when Queens Creek Elementary School in Onslow County cut the ribbon on a 5-kilowatt solar array. Not only was the event the culmination of a years-long project, it was also a first step toward the future of energy generation.
On a picture-perfect fall day, school and energy industry officials gathered in the shadow of the solar array to celebrate the project.
Elaine Justice, principal of the school that houses kindergarten through fifth grade, said the idea of solar-generated power at the school was born several years ago among a group of fourth- and fifth-grade students, now in high school. She invited three of those students, Kasey Butler, Christian Davis and Erica Miller, to cut the ribbon.
“These students challenged their teachers, their peers and, mostly, their principal, to set us on this path,” Justice said as she asked Davis and Miller to come forward. Butler was unable to attend.
Before they cut that ribbon, though, Queens Creek was celebrated for its push to become a “green power” school in North Carolina.
Queens Creek, already recognized by the Catawba College Center for the Environment as an NC Green School of Excellence, learned in April 2016 that it was selected an NC GreenPower Solar School. Selection by the nonprofit group NC GreenPower meant the school was in line to receive grants from the State Employees Credit Union and NC GreenPower that would pay for two-thirds of the cost to buy and install the array, about $27,000.
The solar array will provide power for the school cafeteria, according to Justice.
“We believe that by using it for the cafeteria, it will make a big difference in our electric bill, because the equipment in there is such a power drain,” she has said.
In her welcoming remarks, Beth Folger, deputy superintendent for Onslow County Schools, said she was impressed by the school’s accomplishment.
“I’m going to speak from the heart,” she said. “I’m excited about the idea that was hatched by the teachers and staff at Queens Creek.”
Not only will the solar array provide savings in the cost of electricity for the school, estimated at $657 annually, it will provide students learning opportunities involving real-life issues, Folger said.
“They are going to solve real-world problems,” she said. “This makes learning come alive.”
Raleigh-based NC GreenPower is a nonprofit organization focused on improving the state’s environment by supporting renewable energy, carbon offset projects and providing grants for solar installations at kindergarten through 12th-grade schools.
NC GreenPower was formed and is administered by Advanced Energy, a nonprofit that focuses on energy efficiency for residential, commercial and industrial markets, motors and drives and electric transportation. The organization is supported by contributions from people and businesses across the state.
The group’s Solar Schools program provides matching grants for 3-5 kilowatt solar educational projects at schools, complete with a weather station, real-time monitoring, curriculum and training for teachers. The program partners with the State Employees Credit Union Foundation to offer a $10,000 matching challenge grant to awarded public schools that increase their systems to 5 kilowatts.
In his remarks, Robert Goodson, chairman of NC GreenPower Board of Directors and senior vice president and chief operating officer of the North Carolina Association of Electric Cooperatives, said that Queens Creek becomes the state’s eighth NC GreenPower Solar School.
“These schools advance the idea of renewable energy,” he said. And, Goodson added, five more schools are expected to join the group by the first quarter of 2018. “Those 13 represent our pilot.
“We’re just so pleased we’ve been able to form a partnership with your school.”
Another coastal North Carolina school, Perquimans County Middle School in Winfall, was one of the five selected this year.
Jeff Clark, chief executive officer with Jones-Onslow Electric Membership Corp., which supplies power to Queens Creek, said he kept up with the project’s progress through a friend, Doris Tursi. Tursi, a Queens Creek teacher who recently retired, was regularly in conversation with Clark, he said, urging the project forward.
“It’s been a long time getting here,” he said.
There was great joy when he was finally able to tell Tursi that the project would be happening.
“They represent the future,” he said of efforts like the school’s solar array. “Projects like this are going to transform our future.”
Already, Clark noted, North Carolina produces more solar energy than all but one other state in the country. And as the journey toward renewable energy continues, Queens Creek’s project is one step on that journey.
“We are taking that step today,” Clark said. And, he added, “Jones-Onslow EMC wants to be part of that journey.”
As the ribbon was prepared to cut, Justice made it clear that the two students who would help, Davis and Miller, represent all the students that pushed for the project, all the students who will enjoy its benefits and all the students who have “the green dream.”
“What a great day,” Rick Stout, Onslow County Schools’ superintendent, said in closing. To the cheers of the students surrounding the solar array, he said, “Way to go, Queens Creek! We are excited about innovation.”
This story is provided courtesy of the Tideland News, a weekly newspaper in Swansboro. Coastal Review Online is partnering with the Tideland to provide readers with more environmental and lifestyle stories of interest about our coast. You can read other stories about the Swansboro area here.