Solar Schools

Powering K-12 education with clean energy

Imagine this headline in the near future: "All Schools in Minnesota Use Solar Power." Wouldn’t it be amazing if solar energy powered the education of our state’s +800,00 students? It might not be so far off.

Over 90 school districts in Minnesota already benefit from solar, and there has never been a better time for schools to take advantage of clean energy opportunities. A dramatic drop in the cost of solar panels, combined with new financing choices, makes 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.

Solar for Schools Grant Program

Established by the State Legislature in 2021, the Solar for Schools Grant Program is designed to stimulate the installation of solar energy systems on Minnesota schools, while using the opportunity to incorporate renewable energy use into school curriculum. As of May 2023, K-12 schools (Independent, Special, and Cooperative Districts), Tribal Contract Schools, as well as MN State Colleges and Universities are eligible to apply for grants through the program. Learn about the program updates from 2023 [PDF].

The application process consists of obtaining a Project ID from Commerce, submitting a School Readiness Assessment which will demonstrate a school’s readiness to apply for grant funds — download our checklist [PDF] to prepare for the assessment.

Those schools deemed ready will be invited to complete a Full Grant Application.

2024 Funding Round 1

  • Readiness Assessment: Jan. 10-Feb. 7, 2024
  • Full Grant Application: due June 7, 2024

2024 Funding Round 2

  • Readiness Assessment: July 1-31, 2024
  • Full Grant Application: due Nov. 30, 2024

For information pertaining to application deadlines or eligibility, to learn more about the program, or to apply for a grant visit the Solar for Schools Grant Program.

CERTs staff provide schools free and unbiased technical assistance at any stage throughout the solar project development process and throughout the grant application process.

For general guidance, scroll down to view our Menu of Services for tips and resources to prepare for solar on your school.

Schools are encouraged to reach out to CERTs for unbiased technical and general assistance in preparation to meet the Readiness Assessment or Full Grant Application requirements. Contact Peter Lindstrom (612-625-9634 or [email protected]) to schedule a meeting. Examples include:

  • Scheduling your CERTs Pre-Application consultation.
  • One-on-one assistance meeting Readiness Assessment requirements.
  • Understanding your Financial Analysis Technical Assistance Report.

Schools Debut Solar Programming with CERTs Help

We help schools understand energy efficiency and solar energy options.

Our experts will help you figure out how to take the right steps towards clean, renewable energy. We can provide technical assistance on the programs and initiatives below that will lead to energy efficiency, financial savings, community leadership, and STEM education curriculum that will help prepare students for a clean energy future.

Solar Schools Menu of Services (click to expand)

Get an Energy Assessment

  1. Contact Your Utility

    Many utilities provide energy assessments at either a low cost or free. Contact your utility to find out about available energy assessment options and rebates. A good start to find out about available incentives is the DSIRE website.

  2. RETAP

    The Minnesota Retiree Environmental Technical Assistance Program (RETAP) employs skilled, retired professionals to provide facility assessments and community sustainability assistance to small businesses, institutions, and communities in Minnesota at no cost.
    Contact: Ralph Dickinson, 651-233-3374, [email protected]

  3. Energy Savings Partnership

    The Energy Saving Partnership is a municipal lease program offered by the Saint Paul Port Authority in partnership with U.S. Bank. Local governments and schools have access to 100 percent financing and reduced interest rates for projects that incorporate renewable energy or result in energy savings. Interest rates are low due a significant loan loss reserve.

  4. HVAC Improvement Grants for MN Schools

    The Air Ventilation Pilot Grant Program, established by the State Legislature in 2023, will provide grant funding to public schools to assess, test, adjust and improve heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. 
    Contact: Mike Lynn, 651-539-1864, [email protected]

Start by getting educated on options. CERTs provides technical assistance to understand the pros and cons of renewable energy options including community solar gardens, on-site solar, green pricing programs, and green tariffs. Your options and what might work best will vary based on your utility, energy usage, and goals. CERTs has resources on the following, and we'll cover on-site solar in-depth in the next section.

  1. Community Solar Gardens
    Community Solar Gardens are centrally-located solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that provide electricity to participating subscribers. Community Solar Gardens allow participating subscribers to gain many of the benefits of solar without having to install solar on their own building/at their own facility.
  2. Green Pricing
    Green pricing is an option offered by electric utilities that allows customers to support investments in renewable energy technologies like wind and solar. Through green pricing, participating customers pay a premium on their electric bill to cover the extra cost of the renewable energy.
  3. Green Tariffs
    Xcel Energy customers can sign up to utilize a blend of wind and solar energy. The program is fully subscribed but interested customers can sign up on a waitlist.

Choose your Site

  1. Solar Site Selection Checklist [PDF]
    Thinking about where best to locate solar at your school property? This checklist helps you walk through your options.
  2. Minnesota Solar Suitability App
    Wondering if a particular site in Minnesota is good for solar energy? This app can help.
  3. Solar for New Construction
    If you are considering solar on a building that hasn’t yet been constructed, you may need to conduct an energy model and you should ensure that the building is built solar-ready. You can start with these resources. 
    Grow Solar Toolkit
    Solar Ready Guidelines

Know the Rules

It is important to check in with your local city and county about ordinances that might be in place that would impact your solar project. Some local jurisdictions require setbacks or structural assessments, for instance. Your solar installer should know this process, but it’s worth learning in advance.

Understanding Financing Options

  1. Third-Party Financing
    Third-party financing is a popular means for local governments to finance renewable energy. Typically, the local government enters into a Power Purchase Agreement whereby they pay a fixed price per kWh for power generated by the solar array. The kWh rate is typically lower than the local utility rate. The third-party company installs, owns, operates, and maintains the solar array and can tap into tax benefits not available to the public sector.
  2. Solar Incentive and Rebate Opportunities
    Grant and rebate opportunities will largely depend on your utility. A comprehensive list of utilities that provide solar rebates can be found at the link below.
  • Xcel Energy Solar*Rewards
    Xcel Energy’s solar production incentive program provides $0.06/kWh for 10 years for “commercial” systems up to 40kW. Local governments are considered a commercial system.
  • Xcel PV Capacity Credit
    Xcel Energy recently worked with the solar industry, regulators, customer advocates and other stakeholders to create a new, more easily understood PV Demand Credit. The new PV Demand Credit Rider is in effect for any customer with solar systems over 40kW with a single production meter. The bill credit is 6.9648 cents per kWh for solar energy generated between 1pm and 7pm.
  • OtterTail Power Publicly Owned Property 
    OtterTail Power provides cash incentives to publicly owned facilities that install non-residential solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. Publicly owned facilities receive $1,250/kilowatt (kW) of installed solar PV nameplate (DC) capacity — up to 50% of project costs — for systems 40 kW or less in size, based on nameplate capacity. 
  • Minnesota Power SolarSense
    Minnesota Power’s SolarSense program provides rebates to reduce the upfront costs of installing solar. It is an incentive based on how much energy a customer’s PV system is expected to produce. Calculating the rebate depends on the design of the solar system—including tilt, orientation and shading profile—and an estimate of annual energy production from PV Watts (an online tool). To calculate the SolarSense rebate, a PV system’s estimated energy output is multiplied by $0.74/kWh. Systems are capped at 40 kW (AC) or less.

Get Bids

  1. Model Request for Proposals (RFP)
    CERTs has a Model RFP for Third-Party Solar that you can download and adapt to issue your own request. CERTs will send out the RFP to its list of solar developers on your behalf.
  2. State of Minnesota Solar Master Contract
    A master contract is a base contract with pre-qualified vendors that outlines terms, conditions, and ceiling prices for design-build services. It allows for simpler, faster procurement by purchasing authorities. The State of Minnesota has a master contract for the design and installation of ground mount, pitched-roof, and flat rooftop solar installations. Individual projects may include energy storage and may be stand-alone or interconnected for net metering. The state will assist you through the RFP process. While your entity will “own” the procurement process, the state administers the master contract. To ensure your entity’s success, the state will provide templates and documents, will guide you through development of your site-specific RFP, will coordinate the bidding process, and will consult with you on the evaluation methodology.
    Contact: Jordan Wente, [email protected] or 651-201-2606
    Visit Resource
  3. Get Quotes from Solar Developers
    The CERTs Solar Directory lists contractors in your area.

Decide on a Developer

Review and evaluate the proposals you receive based on your goals and budget. For an apples-to-apples comparison of financed proposals, you can use you can use the Solar PPA calculator. The calculators compare bids and provide estimates of costs and savings over the term of the contract. 

Tell Your Story

You could be inspiration for others! Tell your neighbors, family, friends, colleagues, and local media outlets about your experience so they know how easy and rewarding it is to go solar. You might be surprised how influential you are! Need a helping hand? CERTs can provide guidance on communicating your success and help get the word out to local media.
Contact: Shaylyn Bernhardt, [email protected]

Host a Community Event

Get out your ribbon, giant scissors and cameras for a fun celebration of your success. CERTs will help get the word out and provide guidance to make your event a big win for your district.
Contact: Maggie Kozak, [email protected], 612-626-0555

Host a Screening of The Power of Minnesota

The Power of Minnesota film is about people, their communities, and their stories about clean energy development around the state. Following the screenings, participants share conversations with their neighbors about what they learned and what surprised them about the film. This can be a great way to engage your broader community in a conversation about clean energy.

Integrate Renewable Energy into the Curriculum

  1. RREAL Solar Schools Curriculum
    Rural Renewable Energy Alliance’s Solar Curriculum brings age-appropriate, STEAM-integrated solar energy education to the K-8 classroom, and can be adapted for older students and adults. Lesson plans include hands-on activities that cover the basics of electricity, considerations when installing renewable energy, solar energy careers, and more. This curriculum was designed in 2020 and incorporates the latest science standards.
    Contact: Kyle Tschida at [email protected]
  2. Climate Generation Curriculum
    Climate Generation has a comprehensive suite of curriculum for multiple subjects and grade levels, including a specific curriculum on energy that is available online and at no charge. These lessons introduce students to energy basics, emphasizes the connection between our energy use and consumption, the resulting impact on our climate and energy solutions that mitigate its impact.
    Contact: Lindsey Kirkland, [email protected], 612-278-7147
  3. U.S. Department of Energy Education Resources
    The U.S. Department of Energy has a wide variety of tools and resources for educators, including videos, coloring books, curriculums, teacher research opportunities and more. Resources are available in English and Spanish.

Invite Energy Experts into the Classroom

  1. Citizen Utility Board (CUB)
    CUB is a non-profit consumer advocate for Minnesota residential and small business customers.  We can help support school district clean energy goals and projects by providing educational activities that complement community goals.  Example activities include interactive classroom or community talks and free energy bill consultations for households.
    Contact: Carmen Carruthers, [email protected], 651-300-4701 ext. 2
    Service Area: Statewide
  2. Minnesota Energy Center of Excellence
    The Minnesota Energy Center serves as an information highway for energy education opportunities throughout the Minnesota State Colleges and University (MnSCU) system. The Energy Center of Excellence launched an “educate the educator” (E3) program that includes: (1) E3 Workshops that help teachers bring math and science classroom instruction alive; (2) Free classroom presentations, curriculum, lab kits, and industry tours; (3) Access to the Energy Trailers that bring complete instructional kits and curriculum guides to high schools across the state.
    Contact: Rose Patzer, [email protected], 320-564-5044
    Service Area: Statewide
  3. CERTs Regional Coordinators
    The Clean Energy Resource Teams have on-the-ground staff in each of our seven regions across Minnesota. Find your coordinator and invite them to provide a presentation and more.
  1. Youth Eco Solutions Teams
    YES! (Youth Eco Solutions) empowers youth in grades 7 to 12 to create solutions to today’s ecological challenges through hands-on. Annually, YES! impacts over 500 students, and as many as 20,000 community members. Through successful completion of over 1,200 ecological action projects in 12 years, YES! has demonstrated that youth are the innovators for solutions to today’s challenges while building the skills they need for their future. As one student commented, “I learned the power of what just 5 people can do to make a difference in my community.” We hope you will join the network of over 25 school districts that are currently hosting a YES! team and we can work together to make “Solar Possible” along with other earth-friendly projects. 
    Contact: Shelli-Kae Foster, [email protected], 320-441-9254
    Service Area: Statewide
  2. Minnesota Renewable Energy Society (MRES) Solar Boat Regatta
    At the MRES' Solar Boat Regatta teams demonstrate knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to design and build boats powered by the sun. They compete in a number of races at a lake in Eden Prairie, culminating with a one-hour endurance race.
    Contact: Doug Shoemaker, [email protected], 612-308-4757
    Service Area: Statewide
  3. Youth Environmental Activists of MN
    A core program of Climate Generation, Youth Environmental Activists Minnesota (YEA! MN) is a network of high school students taking action for a just transition to a resilient climate future for all.
    Contact: Jason Rodney, [email protected]
  4. GreenStep Schools
    Minnesota GreenStep Schools program a free and voluntary statewide best practices framework, community of practice, and recognition program for public and private K-12 schools and districts to reduce environmental impact and costs, improve health and well-being of students and staff, and provide effective environmental and sustainability education.
    Contact: Jonee Kulman Brigham, [email protected], 651-895-7834

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is using Volkswagen settlement funds to reduce harmful air pollution, address climate change, and invest in a cleaner transportation future. Minnesota will receive $47 million total from the national settlement, and will distribute these funds in three phases over 10 years. MPCA can use VW funds in two primary ways: fund vehicle replacements that take older, more polluting diesel vehicles off the road and replace them with new, cleaner models, and invest in electric vehicle infrastructure. To distribute funds, MPCA offers grant opportunities with a competitive application process.

Federal Clean School Bus Program 
Authorized by the recently signed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA’s Clean School Bus Program provides $5 billion over the next five years to replace school buses with low- and zero-emission school buses. The first federal funding opportunity under this program was the 2022 Clean School Bus Rebates. EPA will offer $500 million for zero-emission and clean school bus rebates. 

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.


Solar for Schools Factsheet
Checklist: Solar for Schools Grant
Brighter Future: A Study of Solar on U.S. Schools

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