K-12 schools across the United States are switching to solar power to meet their energy needs and sustainability goals. According to data from Generation180, a nonprofit organization promoting clean energy, nearly one in ten public schools now has solar panels, and Connecticut is ranked 8th in the nation for the number of schools with solar.
This year, an increase in the number of solar installations at schools in Connecticut is expected, driven by factors such as rising energy prices, favorable federal and state incentives, the state’s commitment to sustainability, and growing demand for solar carports, electric vehicle charging stations, and energy storage solutions.
Rising Energy Prices
Energy is the second largest expense for public K-12 schools after salaries according to a statement from The White House, and skyrocketing energy rates present a budgetary challenge for schools when it is time to renegotiate energy contracts. Many are turning to solar as a solution. By securing a fixed, low rate for 20-25 years, schools can budget confidently and avoid the unpredictability of energy prices. Reporting by The New York Times shows that some school districts are experiencing higher than expected savings from solar because of these rising rates.
Favorable Federal and State Incentives
The federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides organizations with the economic motivation to go solar while helping the nation reach its climate goals. It modifies and extends the solar investment tax credit (ITC) including offering tax-exempt entities, such as public schools, the option to obtain the tax credit in the form of a grant that can be used to fund school resource needs. The potential to stack bonus credits onto the base 30% ITC means potentially lower power purchase agreement rates for schools.
The Non-Residential Renewable Energy Solutions (NRES) program is a statewide, six-year solar program that supports Connecticut’s goal of carbon-free electricity generation by 2040. Launched in 2022, the program offers generous solar incentives for organizations and property owners to transition to low-cost renewable energy. Program updates for 2023 make participating in NRES easier and more lucrative.
Solar Carports, EV-Charging stations, and Energy Storage Solutions
Solar carports, EV-charging, and energy storage are predicted to contribute to the growth of solar projects at schools. Solar carports provide protection from the elements, extend the life of the asphalt, improve the appearance of the parking area, and visually demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. The updated NRES program now offers prioritization for solar carport projects. Plus, these carports can be integrated with EV-charging. Energy storage can be added to a solar rooftop or carport installation to maximize renewable energy use, power critical loads during an outage, and reduce costly demand charges. Costs for energy storage projects are included in the ITC as part of the IRA, and NRES offers an incentive for storage-only projects.
Third-Party Partnerships Provide Widespread Access
Connecticut schools can benefit from the nonprofit PowerOptions Consortium, the largest energy buying consortium for nonprofits and the public sector in New England. PowerOptions offers schools a low-fixed rate, favorable terms, and efficient, confident contracting through their competitive procurement and pre-negotiated PPA for an on-site solar and energy storage project.
Schools are going solar through third-party partnerships using power purchase agreements (PPAs) that remove the barrier of upfront costs and help schools see immediate energy cost savings. Under these agreements, solar companies pay for solar systems up front, along with installation, monitoring, and maintenance. In return for housing the system, schools buy electricity at reduced rates, and can redirect the savings toward classrooms or facilities upkeep. According to Generation180, these agreements have been used to pay for nearly 90 percent of total solar capacity at schools across the nation.
School Solar Progress in 2023
With rising energy costs, generous federal and state incentives, state sustainability goals, and popular technologies, it will be interesting to see how many more schools reduce their energy footprint with solar and storage in 2023.
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March 21, 2023