The panels will likely power the equivalent of a few classrooms per school, and are part of a larger effort to decrease the nation's dependence on foreign oil, keep Americans employed and educate kids, said Gilbert Sperling, a senior adviser at the U.S. Department of Energy.
"Everybody who drives by this school, everybody who comes to this school is going to see those solar panels," Sperling said of Hillside Middle School in Salt Lake City, the first school in the state to have the panels installed under the program. "They're going to take a look at this and say, 'You know, this is what we ought to be doing.' "
Sperling and others on Monday visited Hillside, which is also certified LEED silver, meaning it has met certain environmental standards as a building.
Hillside students marveled Monday at a set of giant, gleaming black solar panels displayed in the auditorium. The panels will be installed at other schools in coming months, and a handful of Utah schools already have panels outside of the grant program.
"I think it's amazing," said eighth-grader Maxwell Wilson. "I feel proud to be able to go to a school that has solar panels."
"We can brag about it," added seventh-grader Michael Schwendiman.
Students also sorted through a kit of goodies that each of the 73 schools will receive as part of the program. They played with hot packs that students can use for geothermal experiments and photovoltaic cells that can be used to power mini propellers. As part of the program, 200 teachers statewide will be trained in how to use the kits and incorporate renewable energy into their lessons. Students will be encouraged to build solar ovens, solar water heaters and wind turbines.
"It creates a culture where everybody students, teachers and the community understands the value of renewable resources," said Elissa Richards, programs director for the National Energy Foundation, which will train the teachers.
Eighth-grader Prathusha Boppana said she's excited about the panels as she tries to be green inside and outside of school.
"The earth is the place we all live in, and if we can make it better, why not take that step?" Boppana said.