New funding could triple solar power in Minnesota schools

A one-of-a-kind new state fund could help triple the number of solar installations at Minnesota K-12 schools and community colleges.

Minnesota ranked 11th in the country last year for solar capacity in school buildings, with 157 installations identified in a nationwide industry report. This leaves hundreds of rooftops with the potential to host economical solar projects.

School districts are at a disadvantage when it comes to solar financing because they do not pay taxes and therefore cannot take advantage of federal and state tax credits. State lawmakers voted this month to provide an alternative source of funding designed to stimulate up to 350 new educational building projects.

The trade and energy policy and finance omnibus bill includes $ 16 million for solar projects on K-12 schools and nearly $ 5 million for community colleges.

The Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association predicts that the funding will cover solar power in at least 70 schools of Xcel Energy’s footprint in and around the Twin Cities and about 280 more in Greater Minnesota. The difference is due to size restrictions based on state law. Schools served by Xcel can apply for projects up to 1 megawatt, while out-of-state schools can only install 40-kilowatt projects due to limitations in the Net Metering Act. State.

Representative Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, helped develop the legislation. “I think [the law] has multiple benefits, ”he said. “It will definitely create jobs in the solar industry and help fight climate change by deploying more solar energy. But I’m especially excited about science schools, because I think it creates real learning and teaching opportunities.

The bill aims to build more solar power to reduce energy costs, which are often the second largest budget expense for schools. The presence of solar power is expected to spark student interest in clean energy and global warming, Long said. Although Minnesota has seen growth in solar power in schools, the pace is not fast enough at a time when “we know we have limited time to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.” did he declare.

David Shaffer, executive director of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, said the state has never had a source of funding specifically for schools. “The funding will allow school districts that have thought about solar power to get started now,” he said. “They can get their roofs fixed, if they need to, and then get the funds to install solar power and start lowering their energy bills.”

Xcel Energy’s Renewable Energy Development Account will manage $ 8 million for grants for K-12 schools and half of the spending for community colleges. The Ministry of Commerce will manage the same amounts using money from the general fund. In Xcel Energy’s footprint, 40% of the money will be directed to schools where at least 50% of students receive free or discounted lunches.

The new law is expected to help school districts with a large percentage of low-income students, like St. Paul, invest in solar power and lower their utility bills, said Eric Pasi, director of development for the developer. Solar Impact Power Solutions. (Pasi is also a board member of Fresh Energy, which publishes Energy News Network.)

Pasi said most of the solar school projects have been built in Xcel Energy’s territory, where the districts have attracted third-party developers. He hopes lawmakers will reconsider the state’s net metering law, as rural schools could benefit more from installing larger solar panels. When his company carries out projects of 40 kilowatts, they cover 5 to 10% of the roof of a school even if “we could go much higher. [in kilowatts], have a greater impact and make better use of the roof of the property, ”said Pasi.

Despite limiting the size of school facilities in Greater Minnesota, the law allows Xcel’s Solar Rewards program to offer incentives for school projects over 40 kW, he said. In the past, suburban school districts have collaborated with third-party developers on projects. Developers build and own projects for several years, taking advantage of tax credits while selling electricity to neighborhoods at reduced prices.

John Delurey, senior regional director of policy advocacy group Vote Solar, said the legislation offers schools an opportunity to save money – sometimes enough to add another teacher or buy technology for students. Second, schools can “integrate” solar education into their science, technology, engineering, and math curricula.

For community colleges, injecting money for solar power will have the same impact, with schools using the panels as educational tools, Delurey said. Students may already have an interest in solar power, and the panels above their classrooms should “stimulate and amplify that interest,” Delurey said.

Finally, targeting schools with low-income students “is going to support schools that need it most and we hope this will actually be a big step towards equitable outcomes,” Delurey said. “You can’t really do that if you just let the market take its own course. By having these specific, targeted grant criteria, I think we’ll see additional layers of benefits as you increase equity.

The same legislation also provides $ 10 million for Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards incentive program, which was due to expire in 2022 but will now have money for an additional two years. And it includes money for a training center in North Minneapolis and to expand Heliene Inc.’s solar photovoltaic manufacturing plant in northern Minnesota.

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