A Bright Future for Oregon Schools

This guest blog post comes to us from Jamie Wertz, program associate at Generation180, a nonprofit with a Solar for All Schools campaign that leverages the role K-12 schools can play in accelerating the transition to clean energy.

Creekside Community High School, Tigard, Oregon. Read more about this school’s solar journey here.

As school districts struggle to adapt to a nationwide budget crisis brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, K-12 schools across the country are shoring up budgets with a switch to solar power, often with minimal to no upfront capital costs. Since 2014, K-12 schools saw a 139% increase in the amount of solar installed. By the end of 2019, 7,332 schools nationwide were using solar power, making up 5.5% of all K-12 public and private schools in the United States.

Oregon is part of this nationwide growth. With all of the financial, educational, and community benefits of solar, we are seeing some innovative projects across the state. Energy costs are the second largest expense for U.S. schools after personnel, and solar enables school districts to save significantly on energy costs over time and reduce fixed costs for utilities moving forward. For example, Portland Public Schools installed nearly 2 MW of solar on the rooftops of six schools, saving PPS $1.1 million in utility costs over 15 years. Howard Elementary School in Eugene, Oregon holds a 500 kW/1000 kWh solar microgrid system, which provides the school with clean energy and ensures resiliency. The battery storage system improves grid flexibility by offering backup power during extreme weather events which benefits the entire community of Eugene.

There is a missed opportunity if more schools in Oregon aren’t taking advantage of these benefits. 77 schools reaching over 51,000 students have solar in Oregon, with a combined total capacity of 5,946 kW. Oregon ranks 21st for number of schools with solar and lags behind its neighbors California and Washington, which rank #1 and #16 respectively. Only 1% of Oregon schools have solar, so there’s plenty of room for progress. The good news is that Oregon schools already have the option to go solar with no upfront costs: Power purchase agreements (PPAs). PPAs are a financing arrangement where a third party funds, builds, owns, and maintains the system, and 79% of the solar installed on schools nationwide was financed by a third party. They are legal in 28 states, including Oregon, and enable schools to capitalize on solar projects to receive immediate energy cost savings.

Solar not only allows schools to reduce their carbon footprint, but also provides an educational component for students through hands-on STEM learning opportunities, job training and internships for solar careers. Third-party financing makes solar a clear, accessible solution for all schools.

Eager to bring the benefits of solar schools to your community? Visit Generation180’s Solar for All Schools campaign for resources to help you be the spark for a brighter future for Oregon schools. Have specific questions? Reach out to jamie.wertz@generation180.org

About Generation180

Generation180 inspires and equips individuals to take action on clean energy. We envision a 180-degree shift in our energy sources — from fossil fuels to clean energy — driven by a 180-degree shift in people’s perception of their role in making it happen. Our Solar for All Schools (SFAS) campaign is leading a movement nationwide to help K-12 schools reduce energy costs, enhance student learning, and foster healthier communities for all. SFAS is expanding access to solar by providing resources and support to school decision-makers and community advocates, building peer-to-peer networks, and advocating for stronger solar policies.

The “Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools” report provides the most comprehensive study to date on solar uptake and trends at public and private K-12 schools nationwide and includes several school case studies. The report website includes an interactive map of solar schools across the nation, along with other resources to help school districts go solar.

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