How 2 districts made the big shift to solar power

Solar array could save Arkansas' Batesville School District $4 million over the next 20 years
By: | October 13, 2020
Some 700 solar panels now cover the canopy where Batesville School District high school and junior high school students arrive and depart each day.Some 700 solar panels now cover the canopy where Batesville School District high school and junior high school students arrive and depart each day.

The switch to solar power in Arkansas’ Batesville School District had two big benefits: more affordable green energy and a big raise for teachers.

The $5.4 million project—backed by a local energy utility and launched in 2018—was the state’s first K-12 solar installation.

A 1,500-panel solar array was installed in a district field while another 700 panels now cover the canopy where high school and junior high school students arrive and depart each day.

It’s likey to save the district $4 million over the next 20 years, Superintendent Michael Hester said during a Solar Tour webinar hosted by Generation180, a renewable energy nonprofit.


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Consequently, the district jumped to No. 1 from fourth for teacher pay among the five school districts in its county, Hester said.

“We were looking for money to attract and retain teachers,” Hester said. “This last year we gave them the largest raise in the school district’s 140-year history and we’re looking to match that again in the next two years.”

Solar school stats

  • Solar schools: 7,300+ (5.5% of K-12 schools)
  • Districts with solar: 1,300+ (16%)
  • 5.3 million students attend a solar school (9% of K-12 sutdents)
  • Solar capacity at schools has grown 139% in the past five years
  • Number of school with solar has grown by 81%
  • Top five states for solar schools: California, New Jersey, Arizona, Massachusetts, Indiana
  • 79% of solar installed at schools is funded and owned by a third party

Batesville is now in the second quartile in the state for salaries, after having been below the state average.

Entegrity, the power utility, started the project with an energy audit that helped district leaders make the case for the solar, which required a change in state law to allow the school board to approve a property tax increase without a public vote.

Alongside the solar installation, the district also replaced more than 600 lights with LEDs, and installed more energy-efficient windows, HVAC systems, and thermostats.

Solar power during a crisis

Twin natural disasters in December 2017, provided the momentum Santa Barabara USD leaders needed to moved toward 100% solar power.

A massive wildfire followed by a catastrophic mudslide killed 26 people and brought life in the California city to a halt.

In the aftermath, schools served food and provided other connection points for the community, Laura Capps, president of Santa Barbara USD’s board of education, said during the webinar.

The district now plans six solar microgrid sites that will provide 94% of its energy and keep the power on during future emergencies, Capps said.

“Our schools really should be a safe haven during times of disaster, they’re our neighborhood cornerstones,” she said. “If we can keep the lights on when there are power outages or climate-related extreme weather events, which we know are exponentially on the rise, it will be better for the entire community.”

Capps, who spearheaded the project, began by researching solar initiatives in nearby school districts, including some in lower-income areas.


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“You don’t get to do this only in high-income areas,” she said. “It’s a stereotype that this is a luxury. This isn’t just for fancy schools, this is for every school.”

Santa Barbra USD administrators also plan to devote energy savings to teacher salaries and instruction, particularly to its literacy programs, Capps said.

“The more we save on electric bills, the more we can put that money back to the betterment of our children,” she said.


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