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Bringing Solar to Minnesota’s Schools!

February 01, 2012 By Ken Bradley, Guest Commentary

Solar power is the fastest-growing energy generation in America, and panels are being installed on public buildings across our nation. But every year, Minnesotans still spend more than $20 billion consumer dollars on dirty imported energy.*

It may seem hard to believe on a cold February day like today, but Minnesota has more solar energy potential than Houston, Texas.** By taking advantage of these untapped solar resources our state could become a leader in solar and cut our dependence on imported dirty energy, while creating jobs in our state.

Many Minnesotans believe that the Next Generation Act of 2007, which included a 25% by 2025 renewable energy standard, would set into motion policies that would allow all renewable energy resources to flourish. While this legislation created a significant market for wind to develop in our state, it did not create the market solutions for solar to be competitive.

Unfortunately, polluting interests at the state capitol want to continue keeping us from tapping our rich solar reserve. Some will even argue this session that we should increase our dependence on imported energy. However, it is not in our state’s interest to ignore our important solar resources if we want to reduce our dependence on expensive and polluting imported energy and compete with other states and nations in the fast growing solar industry.

New Jersey is a great example of a state that has put in place the right policies to make large-scale solar installations possible, resulting in the Garden State having the second most solar installations in the country. As a result, New Jersey has 37 times more solar energy installed than Minnesota, despite Minnesota having significantly better solar resources.

Because of strong solar polices passed into law in New Jersey, William Paterson University was able to build the largest solar energy facility on any university campus in the U.S. The solar project is estimated to supply 3.5 megawatts of clean, low-cost energy, saving $4.3 million in energy costs over the next 15 years, while also reducing pollution. William Paterson University is now able to take dollars originally used for energy and put them to better use serving students.

Similarly, more than 90 public schools in California, the nation’s solar energy leader, are installing solar panels because the state government put into place the right policies that allow solar to thrive. Estimates show that the installation of solar power systems will save California schools up to $1.5 billion over 30 years. By encouraging schools to install solar, California’s solar financing mechanisms have allowed schools to reduce their operating expenses and immediately create jobs.

Minnesota doesn’t have quite as much sunshine as California, yet we have significantly more potential for solar energy than New Jersey, the second leading state in solar installations. Unfortunately, our state policies have not been friendly to the solar market. Instead, Minnesota’s policies have favored the large, entrenched polluting energy industry that has a stranglehold on our government and our economy.

Already, Minnesota has more than fifty solar energy industries selling various products across our nation and the world, including everything from small and medium size manufactures like TenKsolar, Crenlo and Silicon Energy to large size corporations like 3M, Cardinal Glass and Honeywell.

However, Minnesota does not have the policies in place to help these industries thrive at home. So, they have no reason to expand or keep their business in our state, and that should concern every Minnesotan. Studies continue to show that solar is one of the highest density job creators per megawatt of electricity generated.2

Solar Works for Minnesota is a coalition of more than 150 businesses, unions and nonprofits focused on getting our state to generate 10% of our energy from solar by 2030. Our coalition has analyzed various solutions that could help Minnesota’s solar industry.***

We concluded that schools are a good place to start. With the available roof space for solar panels on K-12 public schools, there is enough space for hundreds of megawatts of power. Installing solar panels on K-12 public school buildings would create a strong market for Minnesota’s businesses in addition to increasing revenue for our schools. So, we are pushing to pass legislation in the 2012 session that would make it easier for our schools to install solar energy in the coming years. This bill would develop solar power on schools, town halls, police and fire stations by:

  • Establishing spending criteria for Xcel Energy’s Renewable Development Fund that will encourage broad deployment of solar on our schools, town halls, police and fire stations.
  • Requiring a study of public buildings and surrounding property to identify: existing electricity consumption and the available space for installing solar power and the maximum possible output and benefit including; what combination of solar and energy efficiency improvements can create benefits for reducing local energy demand, what is the nearest interconnection point on the utility’ distribution system and the capacity of the distribution grid to accept solar near our public buildings.

Installing solar on public buildings will improve our lives by providing more clean energy, creating jobs in our communities, and reducing taxpayers’ expenses. However, we need help overcoming deep-rooted polluting interests at the state Capitol in St. Paul. Policymakers need to know the potential solar installation on public buildings presents to help solar energy shine in our state!

Ken Bradley is Chair of Solar Works for Minnesota & Director with Environment Minnesota.


* U.S. Energy Information Administration
** Top 10 Solar Friendly States," Cooler Planet, 2009
*** Daniel M. Kammen, Kamal Kapadia, and Matthias Fripp (2004) Putting Renewables to
Work: How Many Jobs Can the Clean Energy Industry Generate?
RAEL Report,
University of California, Berkeley.

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