by Maria Ann Roglieri
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new K-Solar program is designed to enable New York State’s public and private school districts to go green, and to reduce their energy bills through the use of renewable solar energy. The money the schools are able to save can be put directly back into classroom activities. The program was developed through a partnership between The New York Power Authority (NYPA) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), in collaboration with several commercial solar developers.
The K-Solar program is part of Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision or REV (www.ny.gov/REV4NY) strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% and to produce 50% of New York State’s electricity from clean, local, renewable energy sources by 2030. The program is one of several successful REV initiatives (others are NY Sun, NY Green Bank, NY Prize). It has benefited from the grassroots efforts of Community Solar NY (locally, Solarize Westchester, and Solarize Tarrytown) to organize area homes and businesses to install solar and share cost savings as a result.
NYSERDA is providing technical assistance, marketing materials, and funding for these grassroots campaigns.
The first school to participate in the K-Solar program was The New York Institute for Special Education in the Bronx; more than 300 school districts (representing more than 40 percent of the districts statewide) quickly followed suit this past year. School districts in 59 of New York State’s 62 counties have joined the program. Among these is The Public Schools of the Tarrytowns (TUFSD).
TUFSD has signed an 18-year power purchase agreement with Solar City for 500 kilowatts of solar power for John Paulding and the Middle School/High School. Solar City will install the solar array at the schools and the district will pay no upfront costs for the installation of solar electric panels. Tarrytown will pay Solar City for the power generated by the panels, which will always cost less than what the district would otherwise pay Con Ed. The panels will not completely replace Con Ed, but will greatly reduce power costs to the district.
The school district will benefit from the K solar program not only by reducing their energy bills, but also by using the solar panels as real-life examples of going green for the students. In the classroom, the K-Solar installations will become tools of science lessons, with spinoffs including classroom monitoring equipment to give students a real-time look at the solar panels at work. “This is what we refer to as placed-based learning,” said Sarah Pidgeon, education coordinator, Solar One, in citing the educational value that will be derived from the solar equipment. “We’re building energy literacy for students through the lens of renewable energy by connecting sustainability and environmental education to the school building itself.” The “Solar 101” course will be complemented by a student curriculum that Solar One is developing in partnership with NYSERDA.
The panels will be installed in late spring, early summer 2016. Soon thereafter, TUFSD’s participation in this program will be incorporated into the classroom curriculum: teachers will be able to present the project as a real-life application of various concepts in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Two Tarrytown elementary teachers have already attended a workshop at Solar City this past December to learn more about integrating solar into the science curriculum. There, they received clean energy training, as well as educational materials on solar technology and clean energy. Maureen Massaro, Challenge Enrichment Teacher for Washington Irving School, was one of the attendees. She relates “It’s exciting that TUFSD is setting the example for our kids and our community by implementing renewable energy technology. And I’m excited to bring that connection into the classroom, so the kids can examine and measure for themselves the impact this change will make.”