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2015 marks two years since the Porter County Career and Technical Center (PCCTC) unveiled their new solar panel project which was completed by high school students in the Electronic and Modern Machining classes. The project accomplished a multitude of objectives, including to educate youth on solar panel installation with hands-on experiential learning and training, as well as to educate the community on generating power for NIPSCO’s Feed-In Tariff pilot program

The solar panel installation conducted by students with the guidance of instructors at the PCCTC on the roof of their Valparaiso building is a 32-panel solar array. Students from the electronics, computer technology, and modern machining programs worked on the solar project, the cost of which will be paid for in eight years, but the value of the education is endless. These students come from ten Porter County high schools as well as Hobart High School in Lake County.

Jon Groth, Principal and Area Director of Career and Technical Education, says that the PCCTC began its interest in alternative energy by powering a couple of light bulbs using a couple of solar panels, then students powered every other light down a hallway with alternative energy, and now they have their 32-panel solar array on the roof of their building. They cut a ribbon for the project in January of 2013 and since then have been gaining additional education through study of the program. Students oversee the functions of these panels and conduct testing in various conditions to make sure they receive the most efficient and reusable energy. Because the sun’s rays move throughout the day and year, the team created a robot that can adjust the panels to follow the sun.

The panels are comprised of photovoltaic (PV) cells, which change sunlight directly into electricity. They can be used in a wide variety of applications ranging from single small cells that charge calculators and watches, to systems that power entire homes, power plants and communications satellites.

The PCCTC has been selling the energy produced from these panels to NIPSCO through the Feed-In Tariff Program. When the sun is shining, the panels produce about 7.5 kilowatts per hour, enough to power about two homes. The Center hopes to add to their alternative energy farm with additional PV panels and different styles of wind generators.

“This project has reduced our carbon footprint and energy consumption and also demonstrated to students and the public the viability of renewable energy,” said Groth.

The PCCTC is the first school in Indiana to sell power to NIPSCO through solar panels, although nearly 200 NIPSCO customers generate alternative energy through various means. “We are a trendsetting school-public partnership in renewable energy zoning issues and school-utility partnership to sell renewable energy back to the utility company,” commented Groth.

NIPSCO’s Feed-In Tariff is a pilot program that allows residential and business electric customers who own renewable energy systems to sell the power they generate back to NIPSCO. In addition to contributing to environmental sustainability, projects like the PCCTC’s solar array help slow the need for NIPSCO to invest in additional power resources, as the demand for energy continues to rise.

“I was so impressed by the students’ eagerness to learn and how many problems they have solved along the way,” said NIPSCO President Kathleen O’Leary. “They represent the kind of workforce we need for the future.”

NIPSCO supports renewable energy

in a number of other ways, operating two hydroelectric facilities and purchasing additional wind power as part of the utility’s energy portfolio. They also recently announced the extension of their Green Power Program, which allows customers

to designate 25, 50 or 100 percent of their monthly electric usage to be attributed to renewable energy sources. Commercial and industrial participants also have the flexibility to designate five or ten percent of their monthly usage.

“It’s a great option for those who want to ‘go green’ without the expense of installing renewable technology on their homes or businesses,” said O’Leary.

Customers who enroll in the Green Power Program pay a monthly premium in addition to NIPSCO’s standard electric rate — approximately $2 per month for the average home. Currently there are about 940 homes and businesses enrolled in NIPSCO’s Green Power Program.

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