A group of 10 students from LISA Academy North charter school in North Little Rock are preparing for a journey of almost 1,500 miles in the solar powered car they built by hand.
The group will travel with schools across the country from Fort Worth, Texas to Palmdale, Calif. in July as part of the Solar Car Challenge. LISA North is the first school in Arkansas to compete in the nationwide event.
Jorge Galvan is a junior at the school and captain of the solar car team. He said the project evolved out of curiosity, and was well received by school staff.
“We’ve been friends for a long time, everybody in the group, and we wanted to do something for ourselves,” Galvan said. “So we talked to the teachers, and we found this online, the solar car competition… so we just got together, and we’ve been working on it since August.”
The group joined teachers and administrators in offering Gov. Asa Hutchinson a test drive at the Capitol Thursday, two days after Hutchinson oversaw the opening of the state’s largest solar power facility in Stuttgart.
Hutchinson said he’s encouraged to see Arkansas’s renewable energy landscape making progress.
“That’s the first time that we’ve had a utility-grade solar contribution to our energy mix, and I think that’s a very good step forward,” Hutchinson said. “Where is solar in the future? I think you’ve got to continue to improve the innovation, but it’s already in the mix in terms of solar power.”
Arkansas electricity prices rank 46th in the nation, which minimizes the cost-saving potential of generating personal solar power. Though a federal investment tax credit is available to help cover 30 percent of the cost of solar panel installation, Hutchinson said he doesn’t foresee any state credits or rebates to help pay for the cost of affixing solar panels on houses.
“I think that we encourage the innovation and development of it, the utilization of it,” Hutchinson said. “I don’t think it’s about subsidies and that level of financial support. I think we’ve given enough of [a] boost that now, the industry can show it’s competitive and it is an alternative that the consumers can consider.”
Looking on as her students demonstrated their handiwork, LISA Assistant Superintendent Luanne Baroni said she’s grateful for Hutchinson’s support of alternate energy sources.
“[A] solar car is definitely moving us in that direction away from fossil fuels. And I think we all have to think about that. I’m very happy that the governor has an interest and a focus on that,” Baroni said. “I think it’s good for our future, it’s good for our students to learn how to be a part of that future.”
Though she won’t be joining her teammates on the cross-country voyage, LISA North junior Ashanti Poindexter says she feels a sense of accomplishment after almost nine months of work.
“I wanted to try something new, and doing this I figured would kind of help me get a feel for what area I would want to go into in the future,” Poindexter said. “I’m very happy and excited. I got to see nothing turn into something, and it’s pretty cool."