A new federal funding source puts clean energy within reach for more school districts.
Clean energy and its many benefits are now within reach for more school districts, thanks to new tax provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The law makes existing clean energy incentives, which have been available to tax-paying entities for over 40 years, available to tax-exempt organizations in the form of direct cash payments from the federal government. That means school districts will now be able to install solar panels, battery storage, and microgrid systems at a dramatically decreased price point.
As we wait for final guidance from the Treasury Department on how entities can claim these funds, district administrators should begin considering how solar power fits into their 2023 infrastructure plans. Access to cheaper, cleaner electricity is only one of the benefits of installing solar. Bigger picture, these funds mean districts can turn their school buildings into resilient community spaces that create brighter futures for students, both educationally and environmentally.
(Download our free Fact Sheet to discover the tax credit funding available to your district).
Improving learning and energy literacy with clean energy projects
As schools look to take advantage of new tax incentives, bringing energy to life for their students should be one of their objectives.
A prime example: Last year, Thousand Oaks High School in southern California completed construction on a SOLE, or sustainable outdoor learning environment. Powered by solar panels, this entirely outdoor learning structure also stores the energy it produces in onsite batteries. This provides power day and night to the SOLE’s hands-on learning stations, LED lighting, and energy efficient air-circulation system.
The SOLE is a learning experience in itself, giving students the ability to see renewable energy in action. “Innovation sparks innovation, and this state-of-the-art classroom is sure to ignite our students’ creativity and joy for learning,” said Thousand Oaks High School Principal Eric Bergmann. “The cutting-edge SOLE is one more way we are fulfilling our mission to provide our students with quality educational experiences.”
Gulf Shores City Schools is another school district making clean energy tangible for its students. Located in Gulf Shores, Alabama, the school district has announced plans to implement a system-wide modernization project designed to boost the district’s sustainability and energy efficiency while increasing student engagement with STEM.
In addition to new HVAC and lighting upgrades, the project includes:
- Interactive touchscreen dashboards that show real-time data on the renewable energy being produced, building temperatures, energy usage, and more
- SmartFlower solar arrays that track the sun throughout the day
- Solar-powered trees that provide shade and boost aesthetics
- Solar benches and charging stations on playgrounds and sporting areas
- Teaching exhibits for expanded outdoor classroom opportunities
By providing hands-on, experiential education opportunities, these schools are allowing students to more fully understand the benefits of solar. Ultimately, they will also prime students to start thinking about career choices in renewable energy, putting them in a better position to jump into the surging green jobs market. First-hand experience with sustainability also teaches students about energy efficiency and can have a positive impact on their thoughts and behaviors around conservation in the future.
Addressing extreme weather resiliency with clean energy technology
School districts have weathered some of the worst storms in modern times during the past few years, and extreme weather events will only become more and more common. Having a resilient school energy infrastructure now means being able to keep the lights on and premises secure despite wildfires, hurricanes, natural disasters and power outages. As schools are often utilized as critical emergency response centers, proper resiliency solutions support not just staff and students, but the entire community.
With that in mind, schools must dramatically change their approach if they are to build a truly resilient energy infrastructure. But in a compounding complication – made even more pronounced by the ongoing impact of the global pandemic – school districts must look to ensure reliability despite impending budget cuts and competing priorities in the new education landscape.
Fortunately, the IRA’s new clean energy tax provisions make achieving resiliency a much more affordable prospect. Onsite solar or wind energy generation, battery storage and microgrid systems, which allow schools to fully control their energy systems and maintain power even during a grid-wide outage, are all covered under the new ITC expansion.
Building a resilient school energy infrastructure can help schools avoid the worst challenges of unexpected weather events, including:
- Loss of educational hours required for state funding
- Food spoilage from extended periods of time without adequate temperature control
- Risking the safety and comfort of staff and students without lights, heat, cameras, fire alarms and in some cases, even water supply
- Insurance limitations and utility reimbursement policies requiring districts to absorb financial burden during planned outages
- Lack of resources for students who require additional support, such as school-issued meals
Planning for energy infrastructure upgrades in 2023 and beyond
Whatever your plans for school infrastructure in 2023, the new ITC provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act should figure into them. For the first time ever, schools now have access to a funding source that can deliver mission-critical outcomes for your district. Now is the right time for school leaders to start thinking about making the transition to clean energy and more resilient energy infrastructure.