School budgets are tight nationwide. In one study, an estimated 44% of K-12 schools were expected to slice budgets by 5% and 10% during the 2020-2021 school year. The challenge of a pandemic, staffing shortages, and diminished federal and state funding has led administrators to seek alternative solutions — including more affordable energy.
As reported by Clean Energy Revolution, the Steelton-Highspire School District, located outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, installed 3,500 solar panels in an old landfill in the region. The panels generate close to 1.7 megawatts of power, which provides low-cost energy for administrative buildings and schools. Working with a local developer, the move is expected to generate close to $1.6 million over the next 20 years, which will go back into paying teacher salaries and facility upgrades.
The success of the Steelton-Highspire School District has garnered support for House Bill 1032 in the state, which would create a Solar for Schools initiative. This program would supply grants to build solar arrays for public schools, community colleges, and technical colleges in the state.
Currently, only 2% of Pennsylvania schools are powered by solar energy, according to CleanTechnica. If the bill was approved and all K-12 schools adopted average-sized solar systems, it could reduce four methane gas generating stations’ worth of dirty carbon pollution.
So far, the bill has seen bipartisan support. Clean Energy Revolution reported Republican State Representative Jim Marshall as having described the bill as a “great opportunity.”
Not only does the program decrease the environmental impact of school systems, but it is also a way to use degraded land, like landfills, to generate more affordable energy. The influx of funding may also reduce the burden that the taxpayers in the district have to pay to support the school system.
Similar programs have also been implemented outside of Pennsylvania. In 2021, the Minnesota state legislature approved $16 million in solar initiatives for primary and secondary schools and $5 million for community colleges. Their Solar for Schools program already has more demand than allocated funding.
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