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Coal Lawsuit Gives Illinois School $1.5M for Solar Panels

After receiving its part of an $8.6 million settlement from a pollution lawsuit, Woodruff Career and Technical Center in Bartonville installed 545 solar panels on its roof that will be part of a renewable energy class.

solar panel installation on roof
<a href="" target="_blank"> Shutterstock/lalanta71</a>
(TNS) — Years of pollution from the coal-fired Edwards Power Plant in Bartonville are helping produce a cleaner future thanks to $1.5 million allocated to Woodruff Career and Technical Center.

The money, part of an $8.6 million settlement from a case brought against the plant's owners, is being used to pay for solar panels at the school and help fund a brand-new program to prepare students for jobs in the growing field of renewable energy.

When students returned to school in the fall, they arrived just in time to watch the installation of 545 solar panels on the roof of the school's two gymnasiums. The 22 students in the renewable energy class were able to monitor the progress through their classroom windows, which face the construction site.

"The students have been able to talk to electricians and follow the path of installing everything. The only thing they won't see is the hookup of the electricity, which Ameren is very involved in. That's happening over Christmas break because they will have to turn the power off," said renewable energy instructor Mike Brix. "What we'll be able to do next semester is to monitor the solar panels to see how much energy is produced every day, every hour. And then they will journal that to know how much electricity is generated on a super sunny day versus a day when the panels are covered in snow."

Money from the settlement will also be used to purchase tools for the new program, including those used to do in-home electrical usage assessments, a key component in the solar installation process.

"When we started this program, we thought that the need was going to be for solar installers, but what we found was that's just a small portion of what they do. The bigger part is basically assessing electrical usage at your home and what we can do to lower your electrical use, then look at how much solar we can put in your home. The students in renewable energy now are more focused on how to do an assessment of your electrical use at your home versus installing a solar panel," said Brix.

In addition to solar, students are also learning about the technology behind electric cars. Kids interested in the new technology learn the steps they need to take to work in the industry.

Woodruff Career and Technical Center is part of Peoria Public Schools, and the 16 different training programs it offers are open to juniors and seniors throughout the district. Students enrolled in the program are transported to Woodruff for a portion of each school day to learn a skill that could lead to employment.

"They can still go to college, but we also give them the opportunity to work in a career to offset the costs, like barbering. You can have a barbering license and be cutting hair and making money while going to college," said Principal Arnie Spiker. "They can also turn it into a career. It gives them choices."

Key to the program is mentoring and job placement. In her role as career pathways coordinator, Sarah Chapman finds internship opportunities in the community to help connect kids with employers.

"We do have an opportunity through some state funding to provide them with a training wage, so that is a way that we are able to partner with employers as we ask them to take the students under their wing, to train them and mentor them," said Chapman.

In addition to providing a learning experience, the new solar panels will also bring a much-needed break on energy costs at the former Woodruff High School. Built in 1937, the large building is not inexpensive to operate. Though district officials were unable to immediately say how much money could potentially be saved, the annual savings will likely be substantial.

"It's supposed to provide one-quarter of the energy this building needs," said Brix. "When we start second semester, it will be up and running."

©2021 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.