Public schools and community colleges in seven counties and one city in Southwest Virginia are eligible to apply for a program that will offer competitive multiyear grants to fund campus solar arrays and educational opportunities in the solar field in Virginia and West Virginia.
The Coalfield Solar Fund is a partnership among Intuit Inc., the nonprofit National Energy and Education Development Project and Secure Solar Futures, a Staunton-based solar developer. The partnership was announced last week by Intuit, which makes TurboTax, Credit Karma, QuickBooks and Mailchimp.
Secure Solar Futures is already involved in solar projects at two school systems in Southwest Virginia.
All K-12 public schools and community colleges in the counties of Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell and Wise and the city of Norton can apply for the grants.
Awards will range from $50,000 to $150,000 per campus to qualifying and successful K-12 public school and community college applicants to allow them to deploy solar arrays and prepare students for careers in renewable energy.
“Intuit is building off the success of its earlier collaboration with Secure Solar Futures on a solar project in Wise, Virginia — an Intuit Prosperity Hub location — with the Coalfield Solar Fund,” according to a news release from Intuit.
The Prosperity Hub program, which launched in 2016, creates jobs and programs that benefit underserved communities through customer success centers, educational institutions, financial empowerment initiatives and small business success centers. In addition to the one in Wise, there are hubs in Bluefield, West Virginia; Hazard, Kentucky; Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Lawton, Oklahoma; and Morristown, Tennessee. There are also hubs in Canada and the United Kingdom.
Schools and colleges can apply for solar energy systems and equipment at no upfront cost, while simultaneously arming local workforces with skills for clean energy careers, the release states. Students are offered in-classroom opportunities on STEM and clean energy, and there is a hands-on learning curriculum for high school students.
At the same time, participating schools will save money on their energy bills.
Already, Secure Solar Futures has been working on solar projects at a dozen schools in two Southwest Virginia counties, seven in Wise and five in Lee.
Three of the Wise County projects are up and running, at St. Paul Elementary School, J.W. Adams Elementary School and Wise Primary School, according to Erik Curren, director of marketing for Secure Solar Futures. The remaining projects in Wise County will be online by the end of this summer, he added.
[Read Cardinal News’ previous coverage of these projects here.]
In Lee County, three solar projects are online, at Jonesville Middle School, Rose Hill Elementary School and Elk Knob Elementary School. The other two projects will be completed by the end of April, Curren said.
Once the first phase of projects is complete in Southwest Virginia, there will be a second phase, he said.
Under a power purchase agreement, the schools can buy renewable energy without having to pay to build a solar array. The developer, Secure Solar Futures, pays for and owns the installation and then sells electricity back to the customer.
The energy needs for Wise County schools will be offset by about 30% and Lee County’s schools will be offset by about 75%, Curren said.
The grant funds are above and beyond the benefits of the purchase agreement, and the money can be used to hire a sustainability manager, make facility repairs or purchase educational materials, he added.
One of the best ways to bring solar power to a community is through its schools, Ryan McAllister, CEO of Secure Solar Futures, said in the release.
“Schools have large flat rooftops suitable to host larger solar arrays and can greatly benefit from the financial savings and educational opportunities that solar power offers. Best of all, schools and colleges can now go solar much more affordably than in the past, thanks to newly available PPA structures,” he said.
For the first phase of funding, applicants must submit a brief notice of interest form through the program’s website, www.coalfieldsolarfund.org, by April 17. Secure Solar Futures will then evaluate each application. For those selected for the final round, additional application steps will be required for submission by July 1.
Awards will be announced this fall. Applicants not awarded grants in the first phase will be placed on a waiting list for subsequent rounds of funding.
Interested schools and colleges can learn more about the program through two webinars scheduled for April 6 and April 12. Applications, webinar details and signups, along with more information about the Coalfield Solar Fund, can be found at the program’s website, www.coalfieldsolarfund.org.