Statewide

Solar Schools: A bright idea for education and cost savings

New Funding Opportunities on the Way!

Solar Schools

 

Unprecedented challenges at schools have spotlighted the need for collaboration, leadership, and new ways of thinking. But with these challenges, opportunities for meaningful solutions and long-term change have arisen.

How schools are preparing for a clean energy future is no exception.

 

I think it’s really important for schools to take initiative, to set an example for their students and others, and to take leadership on sustainability and clean energy.

Ana Martinez, Student, Edina High School

Leading the way

“I think it’s really important for schools to take initiative, to set an example for their students and others, and to take leadership on sustainability and clean energy,” shared Ana Martinez, a junior at Edina High School. District leaders are listening with nearly 700kW of solar recently installed at the high school, an elementary school and transportation headquarters.

Mounds View Public Schools is another shining example of a district that is using clean energy to engage students and reduce costs. The district in the Ramsey County suburbs has 13 arrays that are estimated to save the district as much as $2 million in electricity costs over the next 25 years, while also enhancing student education and helping the district meet its sustainability goals.

“My students came to me with this idea of solar energy on our schools. We sent out a petition in the district, attended school board meetings and drafted a resolution,” notes Andrea Abeln, Environmental Science Teacher at Irondale High School. Her fellow teacher, Michael Cartwright adds that, “School board members have told me that one of the reason they were most interested is because of the involvement of students.”

Why solar?

Mounds View joins nearly 160 additional schools in the state with solar serving close to 100,000 students. Why now? There are many compelling reasons, and here are the most common:

  • Financial. The cost of solar panels have dropped 65% over the last decade, and schools can avoid the upfront investment and ongoing maintenance through third-party ownership. These systems allow school districts to save money on their energy bills and instead invest those dollars in their students.
  • Educational. Access to solar allows students and teachers to connect STEM education with new technology on school grounds and one of the fastest growing job markets in the state.  Clean energy represents one of the fastest growing career fields in the United States, adding jobs 70 percent faster than the overall economy from 2015-2019. In 2019 Clean Jobs Midwest reported that there were more than 61,800 people working in clean energy jobs across the state—1 in 3 of them in Greater Minnesota—an increase of over 1,000 jobs just that year.
  • 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. These savings benefit all of us, and showcase a tangible way schools can partner with their students on an issue that is front and center for many young people.
  • Community Leadership. Schools are more than just brick-and-mortar buildings, more than where students assemble for classroom learning. They are the heart of lifelong learning, societal guideposts and beacons of opportunity. A solar array sends a strong message that sustainability is a key value and can inspire others.
children by solar panel

Get ready! Funding is on the way

The Minnesota Legislature provided another great incentive for schools when they allocated $16 million for a solar schools grant program. It will take a little time for the new funding program to be set up, but now is a good time for schools to start having conversations about the school’s goals for solar, siting options, and more, so that they are prepared when the funding is released.

For example, incorporating the array into the curriculum is key for a successful grant application. Schools can familiarize themselves with new, free, curriculum designed by RREAL or think about empowering students by creating a YES Team.

CERTs can help!

Ok, so you’ve decided this sounds like a good idea, but then you’re faced with lots of decisions about how to proceed: Should we buy a solar system outright or enter into a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a third party? Would it be better to do a rooftop system, a ground-mount or maybe a 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, curriculum resources and more are online and ready to use on our public procurement page.

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. He can be reached at 612-625-9634 or plindstr@umn.edu.

 

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