Solar Schools Initiative

by on December 9th, 2008

An initiative to put collectors on Schools would pay huge dividends within the context of a national economic stimulus package.

This blog entry is the first in a series of suggestions for green initiatives that would meet the five criteria outlined in the piece entitled “Hastening the Green Revolution with the Stimulus Package, published on my blog: Unified Visions.”

During the campaign, Senator Obama stressed the need for improving the quality of education in America. Educational reform is a critically needed national imperative within the tapestry of reforms necessary to create a vibrant 21st Century economy. It is also a subject that calls for a broad analysis across the spectrum of issues, from class size to teacher training and standards as well as the general educational infrastructure. One thing is certain – it will not come easily or cheaply.

This is not a piece about educational reform – but it does hold the seeds for freeing the financial capabilities of communities to pay for reforms. It is a suggestion for an initiative that will help to stabilize long-term energy costs for schools. In keeping with the five criteria outlined in the original article, it also contains synergies that will quickly create job opportunities, minimize the need for future power plant production, increase the availability of renewable energy to the national grid and make America more secure in the process.

The stimulus package could include a Solar Schools initiative to place solar panels on schools all across the country in partnership with local renewable energy businesses, local governments and perhaps even local utility companies.

One of the great challenges to moving toward a future where solar energy plays a significant role in our national energy portfolio is the placement of panels. Already the battles over using raw land for solar collection are taking place around the country. At the same time, a group of innovative utilities and entrepreneurs are beginning to explore the idea of using the rooftops of large buildings already built. Likewise, the roofs of schools all over America represent an untapped resource for the generation of solar energy.

With a little bit of critical thinking, the Obama team could come up with an innovative plan for using school rooftops for solar collection while reducing the overall long-term electric bills of schools, enhancing the alternative energy portfolio of local utility companies and generating savings to property taxpayers that would open up opportunities for property tax relief, enhanced educational opportunity in the local schools or some combination of both.

Local businesses could be tapped to do the installation, thus generating jobs locally and helping these businesses struggling to hold on in tough economic times.

How do we make this happen fast? We tap into the vast well of community organizations working on sustainability issues throughout the country. By challenging them to work with local communities and schools as well as utility companies and private businesses, within 30 days we could have more good solid well thought out proposals than we could possibly fund. These groups have been operating on a shoestring already and no one knows better how to leverage community and financial resources to get the job done. By creating a additional incentive for proposals that included partial or full payback of the initial investment it would be possible to actually create opportunities for reimbursing taxpayers for the cost – or creating a local revolving fund to stimulate additional projects as repayment happens.

Even if time and the urgency of the moment required that we simply spend the funds with no recapture provisions, the gains made across the country would be well worth the investment.

Wayne D. King