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Unclaimed capital credits bolster Solar in Schools

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Photos courtesy of SEI Delta High School students learn about solar photovoltaic (solar electric) systems while participating in Solar Energy International's Introduction to solar electric design and installation course.

Solar Energy International's (SEI) Solar in the Schools program secured solid funding this month, when Delta-Montrose Electric Association committed $150,000 to the program. DMEA's board of directors voted unanimously at its regular May board meeting to funnel $150,000 from the co-op's Unclaimed Capital Credit fund to support the installation of solar electric systems at five high schools within DMEA's service territory.

Where does DMEA's Unclaimed Capital Credit fund come from? As a member-owned cooperative, DMEA returns excess revenue back to its members in the form of capital credits. In some cases, DMEA is unable to locate members who have moved away from the service territory or passed away. After 5 1⁄2 years, capital credits that remain unclaimed are transferred to a fund for charitable and educational purposes.

"We make every effort to find members who are no longer on our system so we can return their capital credits. Sometimes, it's just not possible. We recognize that money still belongs to the members of the co-op and we're responsible for making sure it is funneled back into the community. DMEA's board has specifically focused on supporting educational programs. Solar in the Schools was a natural fit," explained DMEA CEO Jasen Bronec.

SEI's Solar in the Schools program works in local schools to provide Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) training while focusing on renewable energy. Recently SEI began a solar training program in Delta and Paonia High Schools. This semester-long training includes online and practical training. With the funding from DMEA, SEI can now go beyond just teaching students about solar energy. Solar electric systems will be installed at each high school within DMEA's service territory so students can gain real-life experience with building the array, monitoring production, and better understanding their energy consumption.

"SEI's Solar in the Schools high school training program empowers students at a critical time in their lives by creating technical career pathways for students to excel in whichever direction life takes them. We are thrilled by DMEA's decision to fund the PV installations in area high schools. Having these PV systems in place will be a powerful tool to engage young people with hands-on technical training right in their school," says Kathy Swartz, SEI executive director.

SEI will provide technical assistance in the design and installation of the 10 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) systems at Delta High School, Hotchkiss High School, Cedaredge High School, Olathe High School and Montrose High School. (Paonia High School already has funding for a 10kW PV system through other grants secured through SEI.) "We are really excited about the continued efforts to introduce solar in schools and we look forward to expanding various opportunities for our students," said Kurt Clay, assistant superintendent/public relations at Delta County School District.

Through the program, students will be involved in various steps of the project, including determining the best site, design and construction of the system, or energy production evaluation. The actual installation will be conducted by an installation company(ies) in DMEA's service territory. The installation partners will be selected through a rigorous RFP process, led by SEI.

"This is great news for a lot of reasons," says Ben Graves, a science teacher at Delta High School. "At Delta High School, 30 students have completed "Introduction to Solar Electric Design and Installation," a vocational course that we partner with SEI to offer to high school juniors and seniors. Many of these students are looking for careers in the growing local solar industry. Furthermore, having the PV systems on campus will enhance students' understanding of the relationship between their energy consumption and the potential for local renewable production. The installation of the 10kW array and our subsequent real-time monitoring will infuse rich STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) principles and practices into our AP Physics, AP Environmental Science, and vocational Solar Electric Design programs."

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