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February 16, 2019

Head of the class: School districts lead the charge towards 100% clean energy

Part 2 of a series of 3 case studies on successful solar school campaigns.
See part 1 here and part 3 here.

With the price of solar installations dropping dramatically in recent years, schools have increasingly taken advantage of the opportunity to cut energy costs by switching to solar. The amount of solar power generated at U.S. schools has grown by 86% since 2014, and a growing number of school districts from coast to coast are leading the charge towards 100% clean energy. The snapshots below illustrate three different models for school districts to achieve energy independence and pull the plug on electric bills. 
 

Carbon Neutral School District

One of the largest school districts in California has identified itself as an energy leader by setting a goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2040. In September of 2017, the San Francisco Unified School District, representing 136 schools and 55,600 students, passed a Carbon Neutral Schools Resolution.  This groundbreaking decision called for the District to phase out fossil fuel use by 2040 and generate all of its own power onsite by 2050. The district’s plan to achieve this ambitious goal includes a commitment to install solar photovoltaic systems and to design all new buildings to be Zero Net Energy (ZNE). San Francisco’s school district is on track to demonstrate that it’s possible for all districts to achieve carbon neutrality at little-to-no additional cost. In the 10 years since it launched this initiative, SFUSD has saved over $16 million in energy costs.

100% Solar School Districts 

Red Wing Public Schools in Minnesota generates up to 120% of its district-wide energy consumption through a 6-megawatt community solar garden (one of the largest in the country) on school district property. The energy produced by the 20,000 solar panels is shared by the district’s six schools and the community. Over the next 25 years the school district is projected to save about $7.7 million in energy costs, including $1 million from lease revenue. IPS Solar provided teacher trainings and lesson plans to ensure the district’s 2,800 students benefit from the STEM learning opportunities that the solar project offers. This community solar garden model has enabled other school districts in Minnesota, including Annandale, Chisago, St. Cloud and Columbia Heights School Districts, to supply at least 100% of its energy needs from solar.

Certified Zero Energy School Building 

When the new building at Discovery Elementary School in Arlington, VA, opened in 2015, it became the largest building in the country to be certified as Zero Energy. The building was designed to be 66% more energy efficient than the district average by incorporating optimal solar orientation and shading, LED lighting, low-energy landscaping water systems, and more. Solar thermal water heating and geothermal pumps were installed for heating and cooling. Nearly 500kW of rooftop solar photovoltaic panels are generating onsite clean energy. With the students and staff helping to operate the building efficiently, the school has consistently produced more onsite clean energy than it consumes. Arlington Public Schools is now working on designing its second zero energy school and expanding solar installations throughout the district.

You can be the spark that brings the benefits of clean energy to your school district! Check out our Solar Schools campaign to learn more about helping your schools go solar. Connect with our campaign partner, Sierra Club's Climate Parents program, to help your school district move forward with a 100% clean energy commitment.

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