More K-12 schools in Pennsylvania are turning toward solar energy, but total solar use in schools across the state is a mere 2 percent, or 108 schools, according to a new statewide report on schools’ adoption of solar published by Generation180, a clean energy nonprofit.
More schools are making the switch because financing structures allow districts to install solar at no upfront costs. Solar can offer the chance of significant cost savings and opportunities for students to learn about clean energy jobs and technology.
According to the report, the majority of schools entered power purchase agreement (PPA) to reduce the upfront costs. In a PPA, a third-party funds, owns and maintains the solar panels while the school district only pays for the electricity generated by the system, typically at a lower electricity rate than the utility would charge.
The report also found that third-party ownership enabled schools in under-resourced communities to overcome financial barriers and access the benefits of solar technology. Nearly two-thirds (61%) of Pennsylvania schools with solar are eligible for the Title I program, which provides federal financial assistance for schools with students from low-income families.
The switch to solar has picked up speed in Synder County. Currently holding the record for largest array in the state, Midd-West School District in Middleburg is now 95% powered by solar, with current savings of $145,000 per year, according to the report.
The school district intends to build more panels with an end goal of reducing their electricity bill by $9 million over 40 years. As they reduce their electricity bill, they will also generate revenue for the school by selling excess energy to solar companies, according to the report.
“Going solar was a huge advantage for our district in that it made 95% of our energy costs a known fixed cost that won’t fluctuate based upon the market,” said Joe Stroup, Midd-West School District Superintendent. “The savings, previously budgeted for energy expenses, can be diverted to things directly related to meeting student needs,” he added.
Tamaqua Area School District in Schuylkill County powers 100% of its electricity consumption with a solar array situated on a former coal mine site. They anticipate energy cost savings of $11 million over the 40-year life expectancy of the solar panels.
The report’s findings come as Pennsylvania utilities plan to raise electricity prices starting on June 1st.