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Solar energy for schools

Published (3/13/2009)
By Sue Hegarty
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Twin bills, with differing appropriations, would pay for solar energy installations in 20 to 30 Minnesota schools.

Sponsored by Rep. Brita Sailer (DFL-Park Rapids), both HF1259 and HF1260 appropriate $5 million in grants, so that school districts could install solar thermal panels or photovoltaic devices in K-12 schools. Appropriations would either come from bond proceeds or from the federal economic stimulus funds.

Sailer said the Legislature should pass one or the other bill, but not both. The appropriation is intended to cover the full cost of the energy projects.

On March 11, the House Energy Finance and Policy Division approved HF1259 and referred it to the House Finance Committee. It held HF1260 over for possible omnibus bill inclusion.

Both Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee) and Rep. Jeremy Kalin (DFL-North Branch) suggested that school districts bear at least some of the cost for the projects and hinted at a possible future amendment.

Eligible schools would include:

• buildings with sufficient physical characteristics to support a solar energy project;

• enrollment projections that warrant the school remaining open for 10 or more years; and

• ones where the cumulative energy savings would exceed the grant amount and any corresponding debt service if bonding methods are used.

Both bills include the solar heating of swimming pools, but Kalin said swimming pools may not be eligible for energy funds derived from the federal stimulus dollars.

The companion bills, SF1087 and SF1088, both sponsored by Sen. Sandy Rummel (DFL-White Bear Lake) await action by the Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division.

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