According to developers, school districts in Virginia are on pace to save millions of dollars by using solar energy. Recently, a policy change in the state allowed tax-exempt entities, like schools and localities, to use third-party power purchase agreements. This provided schools with the opportunity to enter into agreements with solar developers. In these agreements, developers install, own, and maintain solar systems, typically for around 25 years, and the school district purchases the energy produced. These contracts allow schools to make the transition to solar energy, which is much cheaper than standard electricity, with no upfront costs.
Making the transition to solar is especially beneficial in Virginia schools, because electricity is typically the second-highest cost for schools after staffing, according to Generation180’s program director, Tish Tablan. Generation 180, a non-profit who advocates for clean energy transition, has recently found that the solar capacity of Virginia’s K-12 schools has more than doubled over the past two years. One example of this is Hanover County Public Schools, which now has four schools powered through solar contracts. These four projects are estimated to have saved the school district more than $100,000 each, and will likely save more as normal utility rates rise. In Wise County, which is currently renovating five schools to go solar, the school district is expected to save $7.5 million over the 35-year lifetime of the solar array. With the money saved, schools can make tremendous investments in students and teachers, rather than paying for utility bills. These numbers show the potential benefits for other schools considering making the transition to going solar.