School districts across the United States face challenges with rising utility costs and growing demand for technology in the classroom. However, energy efficiency measures can offer a universally applicable and infinitely customizable solution to ensure districts can save significantly on electricity and water costs, enabling schools to apply critical financial resources elsewhere.
A number of opportunities exist to improve energy efficiency across K-12 school facilities. Facility management departments can start with something as simple as upgrading a school’s indoor and outdoor lighting systems, or inspiring sustainable behavior changes to students and faculty. While energy efficiency improvements to retrofit existing buildings can offer simple, efficient solutions, some school districts are incorporating renewable energy technology into their facilities such as solar photovoltaics to obtain energy from renewable sources and reduce district energy usage by up to 80%.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is working with some school districts as part of its Better Buildings Challenge that are upgrading facilities to meet current efficiency standards, while also creating an environment in which students and educators can thrive. Below are links to five districts with exciting solar programs spanning the spectrum of financing options to bring solar to their schools.
In Florida, Feed-in Tariff Program Helps Fund Other Energy Improvements
Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) located in North Central Florida educates more than 27,000 students and employs more than 4,000 people across a combined floor space of more than four million square feet. The district launched an innovative solar leasing program comprised of a feed-in tariff (FIT) public-private partnership program which allows private investors to lease space on district building roofs for solar installations. The energy generated from the arrays is sold to the local utility, Gainesville Regional Utilities.
ACPS is expected to receive an estimated $123,000 annually as part of the FIT program, raising a total of $2.46 million which the district plans to invest in energy-related improvements at area schools and expand a district-wide K-12 renewable energy education program. In addition, the project produced $1 million in contracting jobs along with creating a local source of renewable energy.
Solar Farm At A Maryland School District
Anne Arundel County Public Schools is the fifth largest public school district in Maryland with a student population of 82,000 and a building portfolio of 13.8 million square feet. In August 2017, the district installed a 1.4 Megawatt ground-mounted solar farm comprised of almost 4,000 panels. The array, located at the Fort Smallwood Facilities Division complex, is expected to produce almost 2,000 MWh of electricity and return a savings of nearly $1.8 million over the life of the project. The district will pay $0.06 per kWh for electricity generated by the system.
Anne Arundel County was identified as one of five Maryland counties with the most potential for benefit — which is estimated to create more than 100 jobs and save approximately $1 million over a 30-year period. A study conducted by an independent non-profit solar research and education organization found that nearly 1,870 public and private K-12 schools across Maryland could potentially deploy solar energy systems and generate electricity valued at $18 million annually as a result.
In Arizona School District, Power Purchase Agreements Bring In Solar
Dysart Unified School District 89 in the Northwest Valley area of Arizona serves 24,000 students at 25 schools with a portfolio size of three million square feet. The district launched a public-private partnership to oversee solar installations at 21 sites of its sites, including Kingswood Elementary School.
The district participates in a power purchase agreement which requires no upfront costs and enables the district to purchase the solar-generated power at a discounted rate, saving nearly $14 million over 20 years. As a secondary benefit, the installations also provide shade structure on the playgrounds and school parking lots.
Portland, OR Public Schools Combines Three Financing Models For Solar
Portland Public Schools (PPS) an urban K-12 district located in Oregon serves over 48,000 students across 87 schools and three administration buildings for a total of nine million square feet of space. To date, PPS has installed solar arrays at 18 of its 87 schools with other proposed projects currently in process.
The district utilizes a variety of financing methods for the solar projects combining leased space with power purchase agreements in addition to those owned and managed by the district. Six installations totaling 1,203 KW of generating capacity are owned and operated by the local utility which leases the space, paying the district a quarterly rent. Nine schools participate in a power purchase agreement for a total generation capacity of 757.2 KW. In addition, three schools are owned and operated by the district itself which were paid for through a voter approved bond for 362.47 KW. The district is using its solar installations as an opportunity to educate faculty and staff on the benefits to energy efficiency and renewable energy through its CE (“Clean Energy, Bright Futures”) program.
Education Primary Role Of Solar At Illinois School District
River Trails School District 26, located in Mt. Prospect, IL just 25 miles northwest of Chicago, has installed solar arrays at three of the district’s four buildings, each 1 KW in size for a total generating capacity of 3 KW. River Trails serves approximately 1,500 students from Pre-K through 8th grade across 220,000 square feet. All three facilities earned ENERGY STAR® certification, and the middle school received the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon School Award in 2015.
The panels were paid for with a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation which provides grants for solar at K-12 schools. While the panels do not provide enough power to supply significant energy to the district, they are leveraged for educational purposes.