With Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $600 million proposal to increase teacher salaries, many state legislators are scratching their heads to find ways to fund this bold initiative. One potential solution may come from an unlikely place.
Democratic state Sen. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) is advocating for a solar schools proposal that could make it easier for schools to save money on energy costs.
According to a report from the Florida Department of Education, school districts across the state spent more than $528 million on energy costs during the 2017-18 fiscal year. That doesn’t even include charter school expenditures on energy costs, which weren’t part of the DOE report.
Sen. Berman’s proposal (SB 1290) would streamline the process for public schools to embrace solar infrastructure to power their classrooms. The bill would exclude costs associated with a solar energy system – including equipment, installation, design and engineering – from existing per-student station caps on public school construction.
“Despite our nickname, the Sunshine State’s solar power potential has been unrealized,” said Sen. Lori Berman. “Our state needs to consider more measures that incentivize renewable alternatives as they’re far more cost-effective than fossil fuels and, in fact, represent more jobs in this country at a ratio of 3-1. By harvesting the untapped power of the sun in Florida’s K-12 school facilities, we can lead new generations of young Floridians into a brighter, cleaner future.”
National solar advocacy group Vote Solar’s research on the subject suggests that schools in Florida could save an average of $16,000 per year by installing a 100 kilowatt system and the accompanying storage equipment. If every public school participated, those savings could add up to over $70 million per year according to the group.
“Thousands of schools across the country are turning to solar to power their classrooms with clean, affordable energy,” said Katie Chiles Ottenweller, Southeast Director for Vote Solar. “Especially in the Sunshine State, where schools desperately need more resources, giving schools the ability to tap into solar savings is a win-win. With a few common sense policy changes, Florida can be a real leader in saving money and advancing our clean energy goals by empowering education leaders to choose solar.”
Rep. Jennifer Necole Webb (D-Gulfport) has a proposal similar to Sen. Berman’s in the Florida House that cleared the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee last week. That bill, HB 935, now heads to the Appropriations Committee.