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August 7, 2015 | The Advantages of a Solar School District

When you think of places that use solar energy, typically, you think of high-grossing companies or personal homes that belong to people who have the means to make these modifications. While solar energy is highly beneficial to many industries and locations, the start-up expense can seem prohibitive. That means that solar energy isn't, for example, the sort of thing that you would typically associate with a school district.

The Moon Area school district in Pittsburgh, however, aims to turn that assumption on its ear. It's the first school district in Pittsburgh to make such a radical change. The district, however, feels that it will be well worth the investment – and sooner rather than later. A federal tax credit that is expected to expire at the end of 2016 will allow the district to recoup 30 percent of the investment – a substantial amount of the $15-20 million estimated cost of installation.

While the Moon Area school district is the first in Pittsburgh to make this leap, it wouldn't be the first in the state of Pennsylvania. The Coatesville Area school district, located in the southeastern part of the state, will have that honor: their solar system, which is currently being installed, should be completed soon, while the Moon Area school district is still negotiating the project.

Using solar energy to power a school district has a number of unique advantages. Of course, there's the obvious advantage of lowered energy costs over time. While the startup costs of solar energy sources are substantial, the long-term investment for a facility like a school, which will be in operation for decades to come, is well worth the up-front cost. There are other benefits, however, which are specific to the school districts engaged in the process of shaping young minds.

Solar power will become the norm for their generation. Every student to come through the school will be familiar with solar power: the way it works, the benefits to the school and to the environment, and the associated cost of upkeep. These students won't look on solar power as something that might “someday” be realistic. Rather, solar power will be their present reality. They'll learn that it really does work as efficiently as it claims, and that there are ways to make it possible for any organization. These attitudes will remain with the students long after they leave school.

Students will learn environmental responsibility. It's one thing to say that it's important to take care of the environment. It's another thing entirely to show students that environmental responsibility is worth even a considerable up-front investment. When schools take on environmental responsibility as a project, they make it real to students in a way that it wouldn't be otherwise. Teachers have the opportunity to give their students a first-hand look at solar energy systems, increasing their interest in the subject substantially. That means that their generation will be more likely to produce further advances in renewable energy – advances that are desperately needed.

Protect against projected increases in utility rates. Schools are notoriously underfunded. That means that any increase in utility rates can be catastrophic for districts that already have budget problems. Solar energy, on the other hand, can significantly offset those increases.

Schools are ideal locations for solar energy panels. They usually have long, flat roofs that aren't being utilized for any other purpose, meaning there’s plenty of space for solar panels. It makes them easy to install and highly practical for these buildings.