K-Solar Lets the Sunshine In

New York's first-in-the-nation K-Solar program (read that "K through Solar"), designed to help schools across the state tap into the pollution-free power of the sun, announced an important milestone last week: A Bronx school dedicated to teaching blind and other special ed students will be the first in the state to get cost-saving solar power, with no upfront costs, under the program New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo initiated in 2014. According to the school's executive director, the New York Institute for Special Education will likely save $14,000 a year on electricity as a result. "That's really important to improving the services at the school," Bernadette M. Kappen, PhD, said.

Solar, of course, is a great fit for schools of all kinds: It helps them lower their second-largest operational expense--energy costs--at the same time as it excites kids about science and math, and teaches whole school communities--students, parents, teachers, and staff--the increasingly vital skill of environmental stewardship. This new installation in the Bronx will have special benefits: reducing strain on the area's overburdened electric grid and improving the air quality in a borough that has some of New York State's worst asthma problems. "When we learned about" K-Solar, Dr. Kappen said, "it seemed like--why wouldn't we do it?"

K-Solar uses a model similar to highly successful Solarize model that has helped communities across the country get solar at costs 10-20% below market rate. Through what's called collective or aggregate purchasing, programs like Solarize and K-Solar bring together interested home and business owners, community institutions and others to build support for installing solar, provide technical expertise, cut costs and ensure quality. Here's how it works: An organizer--in this case, New York's public power provider, the New York Power Authority--puts out a call for parties interested in going solar. With the help of experts, they assess each property's solar needs and potential, and engage in a competitive process to find installers who can offer the best prices and timetables.

In this process, everyone wins. "If school districts wanted to go solar on their own, it would be quite a heavy lift," explains NYPA's Joseph Rende, who implements the program. Economies of scale help bring down solar costs for schools, and installers get a guaranteed, schedule-able work flow that enables them to deploy their crews most effectively.

Supported by the state's NY-Sun initiative, which will incentivize a full 3 gigawatts of solar power in New York by 2023, K-Solar is open to every elementary, middle and high school or district in the state--public or private. Already, almost half of New York's 695 public districts have signed up to learn more about how K-Solar can help their schools. And 13 districts are now poised to sign power purchase agreements that will get them solar at reduced rates, with no upfront costs. (There's no deadline for joining K-Solar. So, if your school or district is interested in finding out more about the program's advantages, pop on over to the NYPA website and check it out.)

Over at the New York Institute for Special Education last week, Dr. Kappen summed up the program's benefits: "It's important for the environment but it's important for us in a financial sense." With more projects on the way, that's a refrain we'll hear increasingly more of, as New York's K-Solar program brings solar benefits to school kids and communities across the state.