As the enthusiasm for solar power grows, so does the generosity. Anonymous donors have been coming forward to fund solar projects at K-12 schools, universities and municipalities across the nation. Many donations are graciously accepted; others are viewed with skepticism.
Earlier this week at Manchester Community Schools outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, an anonymous donor offered to pay up to $70,000 for solar energy projects throughout the district.
Superintendent Cherie Vannatter favored acceptance of the donation, since the energy produced would be sold to DTE Energy and result in a $200 monthly savings on the district’s energy bill. The panels that the Manchester school district is looking at would cost $78,000, which is $8,000 more than the donor is willing to pay—so the district would have to cover this difference.
School board vice president Ron Ellison and several board members were concerned with the aesthetics of the school buildings. They also worried that the solar panels would negatively impact the roof, requiring repairs that cost the school more than it would be saving on its energy bill. “If it’s a gift horse that causes us problems, it’s not a gift horse,” Ellison told the Manchester Enterprise.
At Gerlach schools, 100 miles north of Reno, Nevada, administrators were delighted to receive a 90KW solar system resulting from an anonymous donation to a local art festival. A solar fairy gifted $350,000 worth of solar panels to the annual week-long art event—Burning Man—that takes place outside Gerlach in the Black Rock Desert. After the 2007 event, which featured a Green Man art theme, festival promoters donated the entire 120KW system to the town of Gerlach. Most of the panels went to the school, and the remaining solar arrays were gifted to the community center buildings. The Gerlach K-12 schools expect to save more than $480,000 from the solar system over the next 25 years.
"The solar panels will give our students good insight into the different ways we can address global warming issues with renewable energy," Gerlach Principal Carol Kaufmann said in a statement. She called the addition of the solar panels “a great opportunity” for students to learn about solar energy and incorporate the solar project into their science curriculum. After the first year, the $15,500 savings enabled the schools to purchase new lockers, gym equipment, supplemental materials, camera for the yearbook class and administrative computer.
The solar fairy also struck Gustavus Adolphus College, located an hour southwest of Minneapolis, Minnesota. When the incorporation of a solar thermal system put the college too far over budget, an anonymous donor intervened to make the solar project possible. The 40KW system uses solar electric power to provide heat to the buildings and water system throughout campus, including hot water for the pool and dining services. “We’re hoping to show a positive image for the campus,” said Tom Young, the college’s Vice President for Institutional Advancement. “It’s a sign that we’re looking toward the future. Students do pay attention to environmentally friendly institutions.”