More school districts are turning to solar energy, new report says

Published on September 17, 2020 by Dave Kovaleski

As school districts deal with budget cuts brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, many are switching to solar power to reduce costs.

There has been a 139 percent increase in the amount of solar installed at K-12 schools, according to a new report from the nonprofit Generation180 and its partners, the Solar Foundation, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

The report says that 7,332 schools nationwide use solar power, making up 5.5 percent of all K-12 public and private schools. Currently, 5.3 million students attend a school with solar power. The top five states for solar in schools are California, New Jersey, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Indiana.

“Solar is absolutely attainable for all schools—regardless of how sunny or wealthy it is where you live. Too few schools realize that solar is something they can take advantage of to save money and benefit students today,” Wendy Philleo, executive director of Generation180, said. “Schools that switch to solar can put energy cost savings toward return-to-school preparations, such as installing ventilation systems, or toward retaining teachers and preserving essential programs.”

After personnel, energy costs are the second largest expense for U.S. schools. The report’s authors say school districts can save significantly on energy costs over time, citing the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona as an example. The district expects to save $43 million over 20 years. Also, the Batesville School District in Arkansas used energy savings to become the highest-paying school district in the county, with teachers receiving up to $9,000 per year in raises.

The study says most schools go solar with minimal to no upfront capital costs. Specifically, 79 percent of the solar installed on schools was financed by a third party—such as a solar developer—who funds, builds, owns, and maintains the system. This allows schools and districts to purchase solar energy and receive immediate energy cost savings.

“Solar installations support local jobs and generate tax revenue, but they can also help schools put energy savings toward other upgrades and better support their teachers,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA, said. “As we think of ways we can rebuild better, helping schools make the switch to solar + storage can uplift our communities, drive our stalled economy, and insulate our schools from the effects of climate change. It’s rare to find a solution that can solve many challenges at once, and we hope Congress will recognize that solar can also play a vital role in our communities.”