Schools could actually save money by going solar

As a proud parent of a Durham Public School student, and an unapologetic TreeHugger, I was delighted when a coalition of environmental groups teamed up to launch Repower Our Schools—a grassroots campaign initiative pushing for Durham and Charlotte Mecklenberg school districts here in North Carolina to commit to going 100% solar.

Now the group is making waves with two feasibility studies published by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center (NC CETC) which show that it's not just possible for both school districts to go 100% solar, but that the arrangement would actually save schools money.

Of course, there's a catch.

Under present policy, North Carolina is one of only five states where third party sales are apparently prohibited. (I say apparently, because this is actually subject to a test case in which Duke Energy is suing a church over a third-party sales arrangement.) If this were to change, and if net metering policy were improved too, schools would maximize their savings from going solar with no-upfront costs, potentially saving the equivalent to 1,357 annual starting teacher salaries for Charlotte Mecklenberg, and 414 for Durham Public Schools, over the 25 year lifecycle of a typical solar array. Even as policy currently stands, the schools could still save around 9% compared to what they are paying now for electricity, using what's catchily referred to as "a partnership-flip financing model". (Yeah, please don't ask me to explain the details.)

Either way, I must admit that there is part of me that's somewhat ambivalent about the specifics of how much schools could save. Given the fact that it's increasingly likely that solar will be one of our major sources of energy in the decades to come, I want my children to be educated in an environment where they are prepared for that future. (I'm also not a huge fan of them living in a state that is suffering badly from the externalities of our fossil fuel addiction.)

So by all means, let's push for a change to our clean energy policy environment. And certainly let's not backtrack on the policies we have already. But I'm down with our schools going solar, even before we have the ideal policies in place.

Those who agree can add their name to the Durham Repower Our Schools petition here, and the Charlotte one here.

Tags: Renewable Energy | Solar Power

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