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Schools and Renewable energy: A Smart Combination

Published March 9, 2020

Solar energy is becoming a popular investment for Minnesota cities and counties. With the great opportunity to utilize school rooftops, fields and parking lots, some schools have installed solar, and others are showing interest in investing in renewable energy.  For schools, solar can provide potential cost savings, offer a learning experience for students, and support efforts for a clean environment. Here are a few of the Minnesota schools that are taking a step into solar.  

Red Wing Community Solar garden 

Southeast Minnesota

Commissioned in 2016, the Red Wing Community Solar garden is a partnership between the Red Wing School District and Innovative Power Systems (IPS). This solar garden is one of the largest in the country with a size of 6 MW and 15,520 panels. The solar garden is shared by six schools and the community.

While the school district does not own the solar array, they subscribe to the community solar garden and receive electricity rates at a fixed rate typically lower than the local utilities retail rate over a 10 to 25 year period. With the reduced and predictable electricity rates, the school district expects to see considerable savings over time. 

The solar garden produces enough energy to power around 1,000 average-sized Minnesota homes. The project also allowed the Red Wing School District to receive $1,000,000 in land lease revenues as well as significant energy savings. Read more about the project here.

ROCORI School District

West Central Minnesota

The ROCORI School District, in Stearns County, installed solar panels to provide a learning experience to the community about the benefits of renewable energy. The project was initiated by the ROCORI principal, Mark Jenson, who collaborated with the ROCORI district head of buildings and grounds, Brent Neisinger, the MN Renewable Energies consultant, Aaron Busse, and the ROCORI Student Environmentalist Club & YES! Team Advisor, Barb Omann. 

The project was primarily created as a learning tool for students. The solar arrays served as an important addition to the schools existing outdoor classroom that consisted of a greenhouse and pollinator garden. With an installed monitor system, students and staff can track the energy produced in real-time. To increase awareness of solar energy the school plans to share information about the energy produced by their solar panels. In addition to the learning experience, the solar panels are expected to generate 1,783 kWh of energy each year. 

Pine River-Backus and Pequot Lakes School District 

Central Minnesota

New Energy Equity, Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) and Region Five Development Commission (R5DC) partnered to develop six solar arrays (total of 1.5MW) for the Pine River-Backus and Pequot Lakes school district and Central Lakes College. 

Pine River-Backus is the largest site with an 800 kW solar array that is predicted to offset more than 80 percent of the school district’s electricity load. Pequot Lakes 300 kW solar array with 984 panels is expected to prevent about 243 tons of CO2 each year. Similarly, Central Lakes College, with a 333 kW array, aims to have an annual 10-15 percent net savings on electricity. 

Built into the project is a curriculum aimed to improve students’ knowledge of the environment and economic impacts of the school’s solar energy system. All three projects are estimated to reduce each school’s carbon footprint by 1,420 metric tons of carbon dioxide while offering discounted and predictable electricity rates over the next 25 years.

Resources for Schools Interested in Solar

Renewable energy, such as solar energy, can come with many benefits. Providing a place to learn about energy production, cost-saving opportunities and the opportunity to demonstrate community leadership in sustainability and energy efficiency. For more insights on which schools are investing in solar energy visit the Clean Energy Resources Teams’ (CERTs) interactive map on Schools with Solar in Minnesota. CERTs has an extensive list of resources and information about solar energy, and their staff can assist schools in sorting out their options.    
CUB offers educational talks to help schools easily build solar and other energy-related topics into their curriculum. Please contact us if you’d like to learn more!

Author: Inonge Mubita

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