Solar for Schools: Isaac Dickson System Installed After Community Fundraising Campaign

Four construction works install a 300 kW photovoltaic array was installed on the roof of Isaac Dickson Elementary School

A moment six years in the making arrived in the spring of 2021 as the much-anticipated solar electric system was installed on the roof of Asheville’s Isaac Dickson Elementary School, thanks to a community fundraising campaign led by Green Built Alliance’s Appalachian Offsets program.

Appalachian Offsets funds renewable-energy projects and energy-efficiency upgrades in Western North Carolina schools, nonprofits and low-income housing by pooling money contributed by local businesses and individuals through its voluntary carbon-offset program.

Appalachian Offsets finished fundraising for the Isaac Dickson solar project — its largest undertaking to date — in late 2019. Following the approval of the long-awaited interconnection agreement from Duke Energy, the system was installed by Sundance Power Systems on the school’s roof over an 11-week period from March to May of 2021.

Thanks to a community fundraising campaign by Appalachian Offsets, a 300 kW photovoltaic array was installed on the roof of Isaac Dickson Elementary School in the spring of 2021. Photo courtesy of Sundance Power Systems

“Over two years, more than 100 donors contributed directly to make this project happen,” Green Built Alliance Executive Director Sam Ruark-Eastes said. “This was a collective effort and we couldn’t have done it without the support of our many donors and the large contribution of an anonymous donor who reached deep into their pockets to fund this effort. We are so grateful to live in a place that values clean energy for schools.”

Isaac Dickson was designed by Legerton Architecture and Innovative Design as one of the state’s first Net Zero Energy schools and has been awaiting the solar system to help it move toward that vision since it was built in 2015. Early that year, Sundance was awarded the contract for the solar project, which lacked the funding from Buncombe County to complete as part of the school’s initial construction. 

“It was critical to partner with Appalachian Offsets to fundraise for this project,” said Dave Hollister, president of Sundance Power Systems. “The whole team at Green Built Alliance rallied to organize the crucial community fundraising for making this project happen.”

The school will receive a 300 kW photovoltaic array on several roofs with a total investment of $428,000. Appalachian Offsets and Sundance coordinated the fundraising efforts, collecting $305,000 through a variety of community contributions. The project is also being made possible through a $75,000 rebate from Duke Energy as well as Asheville City Schools’ allocation of $48,000 in energy-efficiency rebates it received for the energy efficient construction of Isaac Dickson.

The solar array will be a net-metered system, resulting in the school’s electric bill being lowered by more than $30,000 per year with a 30-year savings of more than $1.3 million, according to Sundance Power Systems. Through an agreement with Buncombe County, the money saved on Isaac Dickson’s electric bills will go back into the school’s operating budget. 

“The Isaac Dickson project is an expression of the dedication and commitment of this community for taking action against climate change and to leverage this technology to benefit our school system for years to come,” Hollister said. “With the leadership of the Green Built Alliance and its Appalachian Offsets program, teachers and concerned citizens were able to raise the money for the project. This is community solar at its best.”

In addition to reducing the school’s energy bills, Isaac Dickson will leverage the asset as a teaching resource by weaving student involvement in the installation process and data from the on-site solar system into curriculum for students.

“Installing a rooftop solar system will fulfill the architects’ vision of using the school building itself as learning tool that can be used to facilitate discussions about our environment and conservation, as well as the impacts of fossil fuel consumption not just on our climate but also on our air and water quality,” said Isaac Dickson parent Matt Menne, who played an integral role in fundraising efforts during his time as co-president of the school’s PTO. “What better way to help than by reducing the carbon footprint of our schools, which provides the added benefit of saving money on energy costs for the district in the long run.”

Cari Barcas is community engagement director at Green Built Alliance. She has more than a decade of experience in communications and nonprofit management, including time reporting on the green building scene in Chicago as a journalist covering residential and commercial real estate. Connect with Cari at

You can also view this article as it was originally published on page 62 of the 2021-22 edition of the directory.