Solar for Schools

Making the Grade: Three MN schools debut solar programming

December 2023

Three Minnesota schools recently celebrated a big step into clean energy. New solar arrays are live at Dakota Middle School and Longfellow Elementary School in Rochester, plus the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley. These schools are among the first to install their arrays under the Minnesota Solar for Schools Grant Program.

In 2021 the state’s legislature allocated $16 million for the Solar for Schools program. The goal is to get more Minnesota schools to adopt solar energy systems, while also taking the opportunity to teach students about renewable energy. The program is run by the Minnesota Department of Commerce Division of Energy Resources, and supported by the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs.)

“I would say that ink was barely dry on the legislation before our phones were ringing,” says Peter Lindstom. Lindstrom is the CERTs Manager of Public Sector & Community Engagement. He has been working with the Department of Commerce to spearhead outreach and education around the program since before it launched. 

“Right away, our inboxes were filled with messages from schools that were really interested in tapping into these funds,” he says. “So it's been a very popular grant program, right from the get go.”

Ribbon-cutting events at recent solar-powered schools

Peter Lindstrom and students at solar ribbon cutting event
Solar for schools ribbon cutting
Certs staff pose for a selfie photo with community members

CERTs fills in the blanks

In the first year, 63 Minnesota schools received Solar for Schools program grants to install new solar systems. The program estimates that soon, almost half of Minnesota schools will soon have solar power. CERTs is proud to help steward this clean energy breakthrough!

“CERTs has worked with schools, really, since day one. For 20 years we have offered support to schools and historically, schools have been very interested in using renewable energy,” says Lindstrom. 

“But the number one barrier by far, and it's not even close, has been the cost. Schools have been challenged to come up with the significant up front cost to put in a solar array, and this program helps change that.”

According to Lindstom, CERTs’ biggest contribution to the program is being available to offer guidance when schools are facing barriers and questions. 

“I worked closely with a couple of teachers at the School of Environmental Studies. The questions they had were the questions that they had were questions that a lot of school districts have. Questions like, ‘how much money are the grants?’, ‘How do I tackle the grant application?’ and ‘What are additional financing options?’”

Additionally, Lindstrom is available to offer guidance on how to incorporate a new array into the curriculum for students.

In Minnesota, our schools are really community leaders and they have values around sustainability. What better way to demonstrate that leadership than educating students on clean energy and incorporating it into their curriculums?

Peter Lindstrom, CERTs Manager of Public Sector & Community Engagement

Students learning and leading

Last year, jobs in the U.S. energy industry rose faster than overall employment growth. Leading that industry is the work in clean energy. It’s a fact that Minnesota students seem to be keenly aware of. 

“I've talked to so many students over the past two years who are just clamoring for leaders to take action. These students know that they are the energy decision makers of the future,” says Lindstrom. “They know that they will be making decisions on energy public policy and energy markets.” 

Energy careers are some of the fastest growing jobs in the state and schools recognize the importance of preparing students for this future. 

“In Minnesota, our schools are really community leaders and they have values around sustainability. What better way to demonstrate that leadership than educating students on clean energy and incorporating it into their curriculums?”

It’s clear that each ribbon cut charges up another community as Minnesota launches into solar.

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