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Buildings schools are finding ways to finance more solar installations

Published on July 4th, 2010 | by Tina Casey

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Cash-Strapped School Districts Look to Solar for Low Cost Energy

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July 4th, 2010 by  

schools are finding ways to finance more solar installationsAs school districts across the country struggle with budget cuts, the solar energy industry is offering a solution in the form of financing for low cost solar energy installations.  It’s a perfect match: many schools have large expanses of flat, unshaded roofs and the buildings are in use mainly during daylight hours, alleviating the need to provide for storage.  Federal stimulus grants for solar installations are also playing a role in driving the growing trend toward solar installations at schools, as are efforts by utility companies to add more renewable energy to their portfolios through distributed solar installations.

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The installations provide a double benefit for schools because they cut energy costs while also providing educators with a hands on, close-to-home opportunity to teach students about solar energy.  As for the politics of it all, what’s so wrong with saving money for taxpayers while expanding the science curriculum?

The Emerging Business of Solar Energy

Sol Ventus Partners LLC is one of a number of companies that offer “turnkey” solar installations that provide school districts with access to solar energy in the form of Power Purchase Agreements.  There are no out-of-pocket costs. The company constructs, operates, and maintains the system over an agreed-upon number of years.  In one recent project, a new agreement between Sol Ventus and a school district in Ohio will result in a locked in savings of 15-18% over a 20-year period. The solar array also includes a real-time online display that can be accessed by the school district and the community, and Sol Ventus has used it as the basis for a proprietary curriculum that incorporates mathematics, economics and science.

The Disappearing Politics of Solar Energy

As recently as just last year, business journalists (at least one, anyways), were ascribing the “big motivation behind installing solar power” to the “famous liberal bias of schools…” If that was true then, the bottom line is on top of the totem pole now.  Just one recent example is the town of Madison, Connecticut, which expects that a new school solar array will save about $10,000 a year.  That’s a pretty decent payback, considering that the installation will cost the town $132,000.  The total cost is $299,000 with the balance coming from a state grant.

Solar Energy and Taxpayer Subsidies

The state grant certainly played a key role in the Madison installation, but subsidizing energy through grants, tax breaks and other incentives is nothing new.  As outlined in detail by today’s New York Times, oil is one of the most heavily subsidized industries in the U.S. Considering the big bucks behind the current energy policy, it’s no mystery why the U.S. remains powered by fossil fuels even as the risks of fossil fuel harvesting rise and communities continue to be devastated by the impacts of oil spills, coal mining, and natural gas drilling. Until we get a new national energy policy that transfers those subsidies into low-risk, alternative energy, it looks like we’re stuck with the status quo.  With mid-term elections coming up, now would be the perfect time to let your representatives in Congress know what’s on your mind.

Image: Solar panels on school by mjmonty on flickr.com.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Matthew

    And I bet the school systems can sell the energy they don’t need on weekends, holidays and when school isn’t in session back to the power grid. That should be a powerful win win situation.

  • Dave B

    “the buildings are in use mainly during daylight hours, alleviating the need to provide for storage”.

    No, there is plenty of “storage” on the grid assuming that the school is currently connected to the grid, which of course, most are.

    Typically only log cabins in the wilderness still use battery storage.

    Urban structures like schools would just send surplus to the grid, and get credited by their regular utility for providing power, and that reduces (or eliminates) their current utility electric bill, (depending on whether they knock out only a portion or the entire 100% of their kwh needs).

    Most schools have more than enough roof space to knock out 100%.

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