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Solar Schools: A bright idea for education and cost savings

What if all schools in Minnesota utilized solar power?

Energizing Education

 

Imagine this headline in the near future: "All Schools in Minnesota Utilize Solar Power." Wouldn’t it be amazing if solar energy powered the education of our state’s 845,404 students? It might not be so far off.

Most schools in Minnesota do not currently have solar, but there has never been a better time for them to take advantage of clean energy opportunities. A dramatic drop in the cost of solar panels, combined with new financing choices, has now made solar widely available.

 

Why now? There are many reasons, and here are the four most common:

  1. Financial. The cost of solar panels has dropped 65% over the last decade, and schools can avoid the upfront investment and ongoing maintenance requirements through third-party ownership.
  2. Educational. Access to solar allows students and teachers to connect STEM education with new technology on school grounds and with one of the fastest growing job markets in the state.
  3. Environmental. Solar schools offset an estimated 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from nearly 221,000 cars.
  4. Community Leadership. Schools are at the center of the community. A solar array is a great way to communicate that sustainability is a key value and inspire others.

Here are a few examples of schools who are tapping into these benefits.

Red Wing

 

Red Wing Public Schools in Minnesota generates up to 120% of its district-wide energy consumption through a 6 MW community solar garden on school district property. The energy produced by the 15,520 solar panels is shared by the district’s six schools and the community. Over the next 25 years, the school district is projected to save $7.7 million in energy costs and to earn $1 million in lease revenue.

“It was really fun for me to go before the school board because you’re usually asking for money,” shared Kevin Johnson, Director of Buildings and Grounds with Red Wing Public Schools, and an important player for moving the solar installation forward. “It’s huge, because the millions of dollars the solar is generating goes not into my budget, but into the general budget where it can be used for books and stuff for kids.”

 

Chisago Lakes

 

Chisago Lakes School District flipped the switch on five rooftop solar projects in the district along with a Community Solar subscription. The solar panel systems will not only save energy dollars but also provide science learning opportunities for students and help to meet the district’s sustainability goals.

“Chisago Lakes Schools are projected to save $3-$6 million in energy costs over the next 25 years with these solar projects. That’s a lot of car washes and bake sales,” said Pat Collins, a Science Teacher at Chisago Lakes Middle School who was instrumental in making solar happen there. “But the really great part is that the students are learning about where power comes from and how clean energy will be part of their future.”

 

Pine River-Backus

 

The field and track behind Pine River-Backus High School is now home to a large solar array expected to cover about 80 percent of their electricity needs, at a discount to their typical electricity rates.

“Not only is the new solar array saving our school district money,” said Pine River-Backus Superintendent Dave Endicott, “it’s providing direct STEM educational opportunities for our students and getting them thinking about their own career opportunities in the quickly-growing clean energy industry.”

 

Which school districts in Minnesota are using solar energy?

Ok, so you’ve decided this sounds like a good idea.

But then you’re faced with lots of decisions:

  • Buy it outright or enter into a power purchase agreement (PPA)?
  • Rooftop, ground-mount or carport?
  • How can we work with our electric utility?
  • What rebates or other incentive can we tap into?
  • When and how should we engage the school board?

That’s where the Clean Energy Resource Teams—or CERTs—swing into action.

CERTs has been working with schools across the state to make solar a reality for years, and in the process, has developed unbiased tools and resources for other schools to utilize free of charge. Tools for site selection, requests for proposals, State contracts, calculators, and more are online and ready to use.

Want to talk to a human?

Even after tapping into these tools, it’s always nice to talk to a human to ask questions, learn who else has installed solar, and get help all along the way. Peter Lindstrom with CERTs is ready and willing to help your school move forward with solar.

Download

Solar for Schools Factsheet