State program to increase solar energy and education in schools

Now - the Minnesota Department of Commerce Solar for Schools Program is on track to award nearly $8 million dollars for up to 80 school across the state.

Solar panels

The state is awarding these grants based on the financial need of the school districts.

Around 70 percent of all rural schools in Minnesota fall below the state average for operating referendum dollars.

Schools with the most need can get up to 95 percent of system costs covered, which is up to $114,000.

Once the schools are accepted, they have one year to finish the installation process - which, has been a little but of a challenge.

"Another thing we're dealing with right now is supply chain issues," said MN Dept. of Commerce Jack Kluempke. "We've heard about supply chain issues throughout all the economic sectors that we deal with - Solar's no different. And that's why we put in one of those metrics that they have to have at least ordered the material by a certain date to make sure we get it within a year."

Solar energy helps reduce electric bills, creates local jobs, and is a homegrown power source for more local economic security.

A requirement for schools to apply to this program - is that they have to include solar energy into their curriculum. This creates more learning opportunities about solar jobs for students.

"The job market for solar has been expanding over the last few years - very rapidly," said Kluempke. "Those jobs are across the spectrum. Its not only installers, it's engineers, electricians, legal components, accounting, finance jobs. It really runs the gamete. So by starting with young kids and getting them involved to understand how it works and to see that there are careers available. It's really hard for a kid to pick a career if that kid doesn't know the career exists."

Three Rochester schools - Mayo High School, Century High School, and John Marshall High School - already have solar panels installed.

Kluempke said the state received more applications than they had funds for in the first round, so they asked the legislature for more funding.

This year, the program will be able to complete 60 installation projects - including more here in Rochester, Austin, and Bryon.

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