Award of Excellence: Solar Installation with STEM Resident Platform
The Rockford Housing Authority won a 2017 Award of Excellence in Project Design for modernizing their communities with energy-saving solar panels and educating youth on energy conservation. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development. The Project Design category focuses primarily on the physical or landscape design of a building or project.
In 2015, the Rockford Housing Authority (RHA) entered into an Energy Performance Contract (EPC) to improve its properties and reduce energy consumption. The EPC has saved almost $500,000 in energy annually. A total of 122,350 therms of natural gas, 17,687 CCF of water and 1,609,410 kWh of electricity was saved during the first year for a total reduction of 32 percent for gas, 17 percent for water, and 38 percent for electric. The environmental impact from improvements equal to 17.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide or 20.1 million miles driven with 900,000 gallons of gasoline or 2,429 acres of trees planted. Residents reported around a 30 percent reduction of their energy bills.
As part of their EPC, RHA built three solar installations and one solar energy farm. The Blackhawk Courts solar farm is a ground-level installation that cost $220,000, which was paid for by a $120,000 Illinois Clean Energy Grant/$100,000 EPC contingency. It is not only an energy but also a learning opportunity for the community. Utilizing the Better Buildings Challenge and Department of Energy (DOE) curriculum, students and residents of the RHA tour the site to learn about energy, energy conservation, and STEM opportunities.
The Energy Literacy and Conservation programs are taught by RHA Resident Service specialists who utilize DOE curriculum geared to children in grades K-12. The curriculum is aligned with classroom instruction and provides teachers with simple, easy-to-implement classroom content before their site visits.
Onsite tours of the Blackhawk solar farm include access to a teacher’s class prep binder and hand-outs. For the children who live at the site, the RHA also created educational materials and signage featuring Sunny and Sonny, who live in a universe where green and renewable energy powers the world.
RHA's investment in solar energy is not only helping them to reduce their energy consumption but to also to help spark children's interest in the STEM field. Thanks to Sunny and Sonny children in low-income families can be inspired to pursue a career in renewable energy.