Solar Schools

Video: Students drive solar adoption at Mounds View Public Schools

November 2020

Mounds View Public Schools recently finished installing solar PV systems on the roofs of 13 school buildings. The projects are estimated to save the district $1-2 million in electricity costs over the next 25 years, while also enhancing student education and helping the district meet its sustainability goals.

CERTs talked to students, teachers, and staff to learn more about their efforts. Watch the video or read the interviews below to study up on their solar successes!

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It's a no-lose for the school district. We're saving $1-2 million on energy costs, we're offsetting carbon, we can use it educationally, and it's good public relations.

Mike Cartwright, Mounds View High School physics teacher

Tell us about the district's solar arrays

Mike Cartwright: Mounds View Public Schools has 13 school buildings with 40 kW rooftop solar photovoltaic systems. All were installed by IPS Solar over a three year period without any costs to the school district. A private investor had the opportunity to finance each school project and receive the incentives (school districts do not qualify for the federal tax credits because they are public). The district receives a 10-20% discount on their electric bill for 15 years. The electricity produced by the solar arrays goes onto the grid for use in the school and community. After 15 years of discounted electricity, the school district becomes the owner of the array and receives all of the energy produced for the next ten years.

  • Bel Air Elementary
  • Chippewa Middle School
  • Edgewood Middle School
  • Highview Middle School
  • Irondale High School
  • Island Lake Elementary
  • Mounds View High School
  • Pike Lake Kindergarten
  • Pinewood Elementary
  • Snail Lake Kindergarten
  • Sunnyside Elementary
  • Turtle Lake Elementary
  • Valentine Hills Elementary

What got the district interested in solar energy?

Mike Cartwright: During the summer of 2014, I took a summer class for teachers at the University of Minnesota. The class was "Renewable Energy and Bioproducts" from the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering. Professor Ulrike Tschirner provided a hands-on introduction to several renewable energy options including solar, wind, biodiesel, bio-ethanol, hydrogen fuel, hydropower, geothermal, etc. A major component of the course required a project and lesson plans. I chose solar for my research because of the environmental and economic opportunities.

My research led me to IPS Solar, a full-service clean energy development company that has been in business since 1991. Eric Pasi, the Chief Development Officer for IPS, and a UMN grad, visited to discuss a rooftop solar project on my home. While discussing their work, I learned that IPS was involved in a school rooftop project in Chisago Lakes. Eric discussed the opportunities for schools with the current legislation and Xcel programs. As a physics teacher it sounded like a great opportunity for Mounds View Schools, economically and educationally.

I met with the district's Assistant Superintendent to discuss the feasibility. He brought it to the Superintendent, School Board, and all of the district decision makers. After careful consideration and research, Mounds View Schools applied for three school projects in a fairly competitive field of requests. Eventually, after three years of the program, 13 of the school buildings had the 40 kW systems operating.

How did the solar installations go?

Mike Cartwright: IPS Solar worked with the district Operations and Maintenance Department to identify roof space that was appropriate for a long term commitment to a solar array, and would have minimal shading. Some roof areas may have needed resurfacing before the installation. None of the flat roofs have any penetration through the roof, all are ballasted. Upon completion, IPS held a ribbon-cutting event with staff and students.

Ribbon Cutting!

How will adding solar benefit Mounds View Public Schools?

Mike Cartwright: There are so many benefits. Here are the nine that I have come across.

  1. Save over two million dollars in energy costs for the District, money that can be put into programming for students.
  2. Provide science learning opportunities for students and promote curriculum development.
  3. Help to meet the district's sustainability goals.
  4. Increase community awareness of the district's commitment to renewable energy and fiscal responsibility.
  5. Demonstrate leadership to education providers.
  6. Gain recognition Shoreview Clean Energy Award recipient.
  7. Create Construction and Solar Energy Career Pathway program for interested students.
  8. Fulfill District's Renewable Energy Resolution committing to 100% renewable electricity by 2030.
  9. Deliver on commitment to improve public health and to help tackle climate change.

Any tips for other schools considering solar?

Mike Cartwright: Yes! Seven tips from our experience.

  1. Do not wait to take action.
  2. Contact schools and installers who have had success with solar schools.
  3. Consider subscribing to a community solar garden.
  4. Involve students.
  5. Identify curriculum standards that can be covered using data from the solar array.
  6. Plan to promote the benefits of the array to the school and community.
  7. Look to organizations like CERTs for resources and assistance.

Andrea Abeln, Environmental Science Teacher, Irondale High School

My students came to me with this idea about solar energy in our schools and through them we got involved and sent out a petition in our district, attended school board meetings, and also wrote and drafted a resolution.

Iman & Sabrina Deriche, Junior & Senior, Irondale High School

We went in front of the school board. It’s scary because you feel like as a student your voice isn’t very much heard or you feel like they won’t take you are seriously, because you’re younger. But at the end of the day, I realize that that’s what I need to do. I need to speak up.

Mike Cartwright, Physics Teacher, Mounds View High School

The school board has told me that one of the reasons they were most interested is because of the involvement of students.

The students are fascinated by the ability to create energy from sunlight. When you look at a solar panel there’s not a lot of moving parts so it doesn’t look really interesting but when you see the effect of solar when you do these little solar toys and little solar experiments where you can see how sunlight can activate something and put energy into it that helps students understand what energy is and what energy can do and how we can get energy from the sun inexpensively.

Over 15 years we’re going to save between $1-2 million on electric costs because of this system and there was no out-of-pocket expense.

I would like other schools to realize that this can be done. They just need to reach out and ask for help, ask for assistance, and just start the process.

Karl Brown, Director of Community Education, Mounds View Public School District

We were able to take a look at cost-effective opportunities, knowing that schools consume a lot of energy, and ways that we could offset some of that energy with green energy or renewables. I’m proud of the efforts of being able to do this on a broad scale. The motivation of students and staff in other areas to make this a community effort I think was wonderful. It shows the support of the community, and it shows something that as a district as a whole we can do.

I think that a big takeaway for us was that it’s possible. There’s a lot of help out there. It’s one component of many things that can be done through energy reduction and replacing products with more energy efficient items, so it’s really reducing the consumption to start and then shifting some of those energy sources in other ways, too.

Lily Bronson, Senior, Mounds View High School

I think it’s one of the easiest and most effective ways to take care of our environment because we all use energy all the time and there’s so many effective ways to have clean energy.

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