Rowe-Clark and Exelon, an Alliance Ahead of the Curve


Story by Katie Kizer

In a world where one of the most constant sources of concern is money, and big businesses tend to emphasize profit, a major exception to this rule has emerged.  ComEd, a company owned by Exelon, is pushing for alternatives to the burning of fossil fuels.  The company is conscious of the economic strain on the wallets of hardworking Americans and has allied with a grassroots movement for energy efficient and renewable projects.  Aside from these green developments, Exelon is known for its hydroelectric and nuclear power, and the production of energy from fossil fuels.  One could assume from this list of assets that such a company would support the continued devotion to burning fossil fuels and other mechanisms of power which we hold so dear to our hearts.  However, what Exelon has added to that list is its status as “the largest provider of wind power east of the Mississippi River.”  And while wind is the company’s specialty in regards to renewables, Exelon has also branched out into solar energy.  



When inventions such as electric cars debut in this culture, the first thing many of us say is that it will threaten the automobile industry, and by extension threaten the livelihoods of many hardworking individuals.  As the harvesting of corn takes off for purposes of Ethanol, we await the cries from big oil.  Likewise, when solar and wind power are used more continuously to supplement energy use, we all turn to energy companies and wait for the protest.  Exelon has done something different.  It has examined all possible options, factored in the well-being of its stakeholders, and decided to aid in the fight to save money and protect our natural world.  This major conglomerate has committed itself to easing the transition from fossil fuels to alternative energies and ComEd has carried out this commitment in the Chicagoland area.  Paying tribute to these sponsors is important because often they are misrepresented as big bad utility companies with nothing but self-interest in mind.

Now a little bit about how this all relates to a solar installation at Rowe-Clark Math & Science Academy, otherwise known as The Exelon Campus of Noble Street Charter School.  Part of the Noble Street Charter Schools, Rowe-Clark is a college prep campus with an emphasis on math and science, located just west of downtown Chicago.  I interviewed Rachel Kramer, Director of External Affairs at Rowe-Clark, who explained exactly how the alliance between the Noble Street Charter Schools and Exelon came about.  “Frank Clark, Chairman & CEO of ComEd, and John Rowe, Chairman and CEO of Exelon, along with Exelon Corporations, invested in Noble to name the Rowe-Clark Math & Science Academy campus.”  Rachel describes the solar installation as a “natural addition” during the renovation process preceding the August 2007 opening.  This is a rare sequence of events in that the school opened its doors for the first time with this renewable energy project already in place.  This is true evidence of solar PV technology becoming engrained within the structure of our nation’s schools.  And what better environment than an accelerated college prep institution with an emphasis on science and math?

Something that I am always eager to learn is how the community in and around the school has reacted to the addition.  It is through these responses that we truly understand the great impact these projects can have.  The truth is that we live in an imperfect world, and even something as sensible as solar can have a rocky start.  Rachel told me about certain frustrations spreading throughout the school while they were awaiting the live online data from the panels.  Everyone was so excited about watching the effects of the project that they felt disillusioned when it was not working properly.  However, Rachel reassured me that “the school community and staff have been very enthusiastic now that our panels are correctly hooked up and we can see the ‘action’ online.”  And of course, a solar PV system in the Midwest is not going to experience as much unadulterated sunlight as those lucky Californians have for their solar schools, so it is natural to feel frustrated throughout the duration of the data collection. 

Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation provided $10,000 in funding for the solar schools project and there is a web page devoted to this project at where the data on the electricity generation from this system can be viewed.  

The ending to this story is nothing but a happy one.  Like many solar schools choose to do, Rowe-Clark held a solar celebration day filled with activities and games all pertaining to the power of the sun.  This includes “making a solar necklace, decorating a cookie to look like the sun (complete with sun spots), making a mini-model of the building’s solar panels, looking at the sun through a solar telescope, playing solar bingo and more.”  Complete with Exelon volunteers, this solar celebration put the final touch on a truly successful endeavor. 

“At Rowe-Clark, we live the Noble Way, dedicating ourselves to scholarship, discipline, and honor as we prepare our scholars for success in college and beyond.”  And if you read a little further into the mission of this school, you will find that one of the priorities is a will and dedication “to learn in a socially conscious environment,” a promise that has been fulfilled above and beyond all expectation.  The people of Chicago can rest easy that the individuals who matriculate at Rowe-Clarke will certainly become a socially responsible citizenry.

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