Warren County Schools staked its claim last week as an educational leader in the field of renewable energy, thanks to a public-private partnership that will help train students for future jobs in “green” energy and turns the roof at Warren County High School (WCHS) into an income-generating asset.

Dignitaries at the local, state and federal level joined school district administrators, students and businesspeople for a ribbon cutting ceremony to signify the completion of a solar energy system on the school’s roof, the largest system of its type in the state.

“This is a very historic event for Warren County and the school district to have a project of this nature,” said Dr. Ray Spain, superintendent of Warren County Schools.

In December, the Warren County school board approved a lease agreement with Argand Energy Solutions of Charlotte for installation of the solar energy system. The company completed its first such project here last year at Glen Raven in Norlina.

Through a partnership between Warren County Schools, Argand and Progress Energy, more than 2,000 solar modules were installed on the WCHS roof, and the energy generated-enough to power around 50 homes for a year-is sold to Progress Energy through its SunSense Program.

Argand’s president and CEO Erik Lensch said last week that the project would provide an opportunity for many years for students to learn about solar energy.

“We see this as educational, awareness and inspiration for students today,” he said.

Gabe Cumming, Warren County’s director of economic development, said the project would be valuable not only for the jobs that construction created and around $2 million in private investment in the county, but also for what it will provide for local students.

“I’m really excited about what it means for Warren County,” he said. “It will provide scholarship support and prepare students to compete in renewable energy.”

Another economic development contribution, Cumming said, is being able to show prospective new companies that innovative things are happening in Warren County.

Following the ribbon cutting, officials hosted a news conference that included speakers and special announcements.

“Warren County has officially entered the solar age, and there’s no turning back. (This) puts our students on the cutting edge of the job markets of tomorrow,” said Ulysses Ross, chairman of the Warren County Board of Commissioners.

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called himself a “champion of solar, renewable energy.”

“We cannot continue to support our energy needs on fossil fuel alone. The day is coming when they will no longer exist,” he said. “This (project) concept is really the wave of the future.”

Tanya Evans with Progress Energy said that overall electric demand in the Carolinas continues to grow. She called the solar project a “perfect example” of what the company’s SunSense program wants to foster and said it would be an important long-term provider of renewable energy for their customers.

Addressing educational components, Ernie Conner, Career and Technical Education director for Warren County Schools, said that the project’s Web-based monitoring system would help students learn how the system works. Also, a six-module ground unit donated by Argand, which can be broken down and reassembled, would be an aide in teaching how solar energy works.

The company is going to provide WCHS with a curriculum in areas of renewable energy and solar technology that can be taught in the school setting as well as online, and Conner said the school would partner with Vance-Granville Community College to expand the curriculum’s reach.

Randy Choplin, president and managing partner with Abundant Power Community Energy, announced two $5,000 scholarships for WCHS as well as $19,000 in seed funding for air quality and indoor lighting improvements.

A presentation from Argand of what Spain described as a $75,000 down payment toward the school’s solar energy education future brought smiles from board of education members and project representatives. Roberta Scott, school board chairperson, used the opportunity to recognize the superintendent.

“Thank you, Dr. Spain, for progressive ideas. We need that,” she said.

Total project funding, including contractual lease payments, is around $190,000.