Solar panels: Chris Arrant

Solar panels: Chris Arrant

Two East Dallas educational programs received an energy boost in December, and the forecast for 2014 is sunny with a chance of savings.

Since 2002, Austin-based Green Mountain Energy Sun Club has helped install more than 600 kilowatts of solar power for various nonprofits in the United States, particularly in Texas. This year, Stonewall Gardens and Dallas Academy will benefit from its services.

The Sun Club awarded Stonewall Gardens a $20,000 grant to install solar panels in their garden, and the club awarded Dallas Academy $30,000 toward the cost of solar-paneling the school’s roof.

More than 200 nonprofits applied for the grants, but only eight have been awarded grants so far in 2014, says program manager Tony Napolillo. He figures the Sun Club will probably award a couple more grants to deserving nonprofits this year, but the others will have to wait for the 2015 cycle.

Both schools have big plans for what they hope to do with the grants.

Stonewall Gardens, an “outdoor classroom” housed in the backyard of Stonewall Jackson Elementary School off Mockingbird, has been helping kids get their hands dirty while learning about gardening and food production for about 15 years, so solar panels are a natural fit for their learning curriculums, says Stonewall Gardens president Laura McCavit.

“The Sun Club will install a monitor, which will give us all kinds of data, like how much energy was collected and how much sun time there was that day, so there are so many learning opportunities,” McCavit says. “Like what happens if you cover half of them with reflective materials? Or about how the days shorten throughout the year with the changing seasons?”

And of course, the solar panel system will also produce power, which Stonewall hopes to use to power a water collection system. They plan to collect rainwater off the portable roofs, and then they’ll use the power from the solar panels to distribute the water over the crops.

Dallas Academy — a private school near White Rock Lake with a mission to “restore the promise of full academic enrichment to students with learning differences” in first through 12th grade — plans to use the $30,000 grant from Green Mountain Energy as a starting place, but the school is not stopping there, says spokeswoman Sarah Jayroe. Dallas Academy wants to raise enough funds to panel the school’s entire roof, in hopes of becoming almost completely energy efficient.

“We have some really motivated parents and staff, so we want to go beyond what the grant has kicked off for us,” Jayroe says.

Once the school’s contract is up with its current energy provider, it’ll partner with Green Mountain Energy. Green Mountain will supplement any additional energy it needs, or pay the school for any leftover energy it produces.

“That money that we save from energy bills as well as any additional funds could be used toward scholarship funds or technology on campus,” Jayroe says. “So our goal is to produce as much energy as possible so we can put those funds toward helping our students.”

Napolillo says the Sun Club accepts applications for grants at all times of the year. The grants are funded by Green Mountain customers who opt in, in order to donate to the program. Sun Club also recently launched a new portal where non-customers can donate to the program. All the funds collected go toward installing solar projects.

You can find anything you want to know about the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club at gmsunclub.com, including how to apply for a grant and how to donate to the program.


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