Solar for Schools: How Minnesota Schools Are Tapping Their Solar Potential

7 min read
Oct 24, 2022 5:15:00 PM

The energy costs for powering public school campuses are the second highest cost for school districts in Minnesota. Public schools are increasingly using utility expense savings from on-site solar arrays to free up resources to educate children, upgrade facilities, and help their communities. As a result, more than 50 Minnesota Districts in both urban and rural areas, have installed on-site solar arrays with iDEAL as a long-term, cost-cutting measure.

How Solar Benefits Schools

Over a decade ago when we first started bringing solar onto school campuses around Minnesota, our customers in education were very clear about what they needed for solar to be successful in their District: they wanted to own it, they didn’t want to have to pay for it or maintain it, and they wanted to leverage it as a teaching tool in the classroom.

Over a decade ago when iDEAL first started working with Minnesota schools, we sat down with schools and listened to what it would take to make solar work for them. They wanted significant economic benefit, they didn't want to pay for it or maintain it, and they wanted to leverage it as a teaching tool in the classroom. 

Through a lot of creativity, sweat and meaningful conversations, we were able to make good on all those requirements. Since then, we’ve installed over 150 school solar projects and fielded hundreds of questions from school administrators, business managers and facilities personnel to help guide them through the process.

Here are some of the most common questions we receive from our school customers as they consider on-site solar for their District:

  1. How does solar save districts money?
  2. What solar incentives are available for schools?
  3. How do schools finance solar?
  4. How does having solar help students?
  5. How does solar benefit the school community?
  6. How will solar impact my building?
  7. How can I bring solar to my school district?

1. How does solar save districts money?

Making the switch to solar energy will help reduce and stabilize your energy expenses — thus lowering your energy costs significantly. Solar arrays save Districts money in these ways:

Energy Cost Savings

A commercial rooftop solar array produces energy that directly powers the building, which offsets utility expenses. Through iDEAL’s unique financing model, the District uses energy from the on-site solar array at a lower expense than the same energy otherwise provided by the Utility for a fixed term. Following this term, the School receives all the energy from the solar array for free for the remaining life of the system. 

Hedge Against Rising Utility Rates

Energy rates are on the rise due to supply and demand on both the local & global wholesale market, as well as upgrades to the aging grid infrastructure. As utility costs increase with inflation, the value of the energy provided by the array increases in kind, providing a natural hedge against the rise in utility expense. There’s no indication when electricity prices might stabilize, but onsite renewable energy has become much more cost competitive and offers a fixed-cost solution over a lifespan of ~40 years that will benefit your bottom line.

With long-term savings like that, you could help preserve teaching staff, invest in new academic curriculum, update technology, or introduce new extracurricular programs. When faced with a limited budget, every penny counts. That’s why solar for schools is an obvious cost-saving measure.

2. What solar incentives are available for schools?

In the interest of providing the highest economic return for schools, iDEAL Energies works will all solar incentive programs to combine them into a custom package that makes the most financial sense for each District.

PV Demand Credit

For Districts in Xcel Energy territory, Xcel’s PV Demand Credit Incentive Program is the best option for schools that aren't income-qualified. The PV Demand Credit is an incentive for commercial and industrial customers interested in maxing out the solar potential of their roof and maximizing their savings.

Before this program, school customers were asked to reduce their electric use during times of peak demand. Now with this incentive program, on-site solar arrays not only reduce demand on the electric grid, but Xcel rewards customers for helping them reduce their demand with a bill credit.

Additionally, the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) are owned by the Customer for the life of the project.

Solar for Schools

New in 2022 was the Solar for Schools program, that allows school districts access to funding source specifically for schools. Schools served by Xcel Energy can apply for projects up to 1 megawatt while outstate schools can install 40-kilowatt projects due to limitations in the state’s net metering law.

To learn more about the specifics of the Solar for Schools program visit here. 

3. How do schools finance solar?

For many Districts there has been a steep barrier to entry into installing on-site solar due to the high upfront cost of the solar installation. Additionally, District’s tax-exempt status excludes schools from being able to access the lucrative tax credits available to businesses and individuals that install solar. However, there is a solution to this problem.

iDEAL's Solar Program for Schools

When District's partner with iDEAL Energies, we purchase the array on behalf of the District and the District owns it from Day 1. In lieu of an upfront capital expenditure from the District, iDEAL leverages unique financing options and specialized incentives, working with multiple programs to find the best value. 

We collect fixed payments for a term that are designed to yield significant utility expense savings for the School during that term, and the school receives all of the expense savings thereafter.

By tailoring a solution to meet the District's unique needs, schools can offset 100% of their energy costs if they have the available roof space.  Lake Marion Elementary in Lakeville has a solar array that is capable of producing 95% of their energy needs with no upfront costs to the District.

Lake Marion Elementary Goes Solar | iDEAL Energies


Traditional Solar Financing 

In traditional solar arrangements, a third-party owns, finances, constructs, and maintains the system. The school then pays the third-party for the energy produced. After 25 years, the Customer either purchases the solar array from the third-party at fair market value, or extends the arrangement and continues paying the third-party for the energy. 

4. How does having on-site solar help students?

Solar energy presents limitless opportunities for innovative academic instruction, from kindergarten through high school. Not only does having an on-site solar array open the door to critical thinking and discussions about renewable energy sources, energy efficiency and electricity generation, but it also offers schools the opportunity to expand career and technical education and better prepare high school students for in-demand jobs after they graduate.

Solar Education Material

With every school solar array we install, we include standards-aligned solar education modules that engage students and teachers in the real work of solar professionals, encouraging exploration of career pathways and exposing students to real-world problem solving. Access to real-time data from their solar arrays provides opportunities for analyzing energy production and environmental benefits at all levels within the school and greater community.

Professional Development Support

iDEAL's education outreach team works closely with District curriculum coordinators to find ways to integrate iDEAL's solar education modules across the District as an alignment to their current curriculum. iDEAL provides comprehensive, hands-on lessons and professional development opportunities to ensure that the District has the resources to take full advantage of the learning tools that are installed across their District.

5. How does solar benefit the community?

Schools are an integral part of any local community’s fabric, and they provide substantial benefits to their local community through economic and community development. Solar for schools is another way that school districts offer benefits that extend well past classroom walls.

Solar Helps Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Solar energy is an obvious choice for clean energy as it doesn’t produce air pollution, water pollution or greenhouse gases. Installing solar panels can drastically cut your school’s carbon footprint and improve the air quality in your community, ultimately helping to alleviate smog, acid rain and other damaging emissions for your students and community members.

Solar Helps You Lead by Example

As a growing number of community members and parents are concerned about climate change and are demanding to see commitment to environmentalism from their local institutions, solar presents an opportunity for School Districts to take a leadership role in the community regarding environmental stewardship and conservation.

Sharing your progress towards energy independence through your website or social media can be a powerful reminder to your community that you care about your students, the environment and being fiscally responsible. Having sustainability initiatives can also have a substantial impact on the intensifying battle for retaining students.

6. How will solar impact my school buildings?

As part of iDEAL's commitment to their solar partnership with schools, iDEAL provides ongoing operations & maintenance for the 20-year term to ensure that the solar arrays perform as expected. With no disruption to school operations or additional burden put on facilities staff, solar should have no negative impact on your building. 

Will solar void my roof warranty | iDEAL Energies

7. How can I bring solar to my school?

It’s no wonder the number of schools with solar power has increased substantially during the last decade. Utility expense savings, increased academic opportunities, no capital expenditures and a reduced carbon footprint makes iDEAL's solar program a win-win for every school District in Minnesota.

If you’re ready to learn what kind of savings are available for your District, here are a few things to keep in mind:

District Wide Initiative

Some school districts that are interested in solar immediately make plans to install solar panels at a pilot school to see how it works before committing to other locations. However, a closer look at districtwide energy usage will show that a different strategy may be more beneficial. Districts that want to make the most progress on reducing costs consider bundling solar power across multiple district facilities at once.

Community Engagement

Community engagement is key to moving any school construction project forward. Engaging those in your community and school at the beginning of the project can help build momentum and identify any concerns at the outset.

Ready to explore solar for your District? 

Utility expense savings, increased academic opportunities, no capital expenditures and a reduced carbon footprint makes iDEAL's solar program a win-win for every school District in Minnesota. With over 150 projects constructed across 40 Districts, iDEAL Energies is proven to be the trusted on-site solar provider for Minnesota schools.

Contact us today to learn why Districts like yours have chosen to partner with iDEAL Energies to accelerate their schools shift to clean, sustainable energy.

Schools Meet Environmental Goals with Solar | iDEAL Energies

About iDEAL


As the premier Minneapolis-based commercial solar energy developer, we take a partnership approach to help our customers achieve their environmental initiatives while focusing on what we know best - improving your bottom line.

Light Up Your District with Solar | iDEAL Energies

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