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Saving Teachers’ Jobs One Solar Panel at a Time

Students under solar panels

As teachers’ jobs are in jeopardy and classroom sizes increase, school districts are looking for creative ways to tackle budget cuts. Some schools have turned to solar power, and their future is looking bright.

As of last year, more than 500 schools across 43 states had installed solar panels, according to figures from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). A majority of these schools installed solar systems in the past four years, as the price of solar panels has fallen drastically in that time.

Since 2009, the Scottsdale Unified School District outside Phoenix has been forced to cut more than $20 million from its operating budget. Faced with the choice of laying off teachers or finding an innovative way to save money, school administrators reassessed their $6 million annual utility bill. The Arizona district worked with SunPower to construct solar systems at 11 of its schools, producing 5.5 MW of power in all.

Superintendent David Peterson said the project will allow the district to cut its electricity costs in half and “recover valuable funds needed for academic programs, and pay for upgrades.” He expects a $22.4 million savings in electricity over 25 years. The Scottsdale district has already reinstated six teachers who were laid off because of funding cuts.

solar parking structor

In California, the West Sonoma County Union School District saw the same opportunity, as it faced rising energy costs and crippling budget cuts. Thanks to voter-approved bonds, the district moved forward with the construction of an 834kW SunPower solar system on three of its high schools. “Over the next 25 years, the solar system will save the district approximately $9 million,” says Superintendent Keller McDonald. “That means more teachers’ jobs can be kept and the quality of education for students will be protected.”

Sixty miles south, the Mount Diablo School District now has the largest district-wide solar system in the world. Its 12.1 MW solar power system was completed earlier this month on the rooftops of 51 schools. The anticipated savings of $3 million per year is expected to cover more than 90 percent of the Bay Area district’s energy costs. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that this project will reduce CO2 emissions by about 400,000 metric tons over the next 30 years – the emissions produced by about 78,000 cars per year.

“We are delivering substantial savings to our general fund, which will preserve financial resources and help our schools maintain an emphasis on academic performance,” says School Board Vice President Gary Eberhart. The cost savings of Mount Diablo’s SunPower system over the next 30 years should total nearly $200 million. That’s a lot of teachers’ salaries and school supplies.


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