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Partnerships and Innovation in Colorado

Divya Kumaraiah, Policy Assistant to the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, blogs about the Jeffco Public Schools solar project that will help meet state renewable energy goals and save taxpayer dollars.
Colorado solar panels

Photovoltaic (PV) panels at Columbine High School. April 15, 2011. (by Jeffco Public Schools)

Last fall, Jeffco Public Schools and Golden Power Partners, LLC  (GPP) partnered with Renewable Social Benefit Funds (RSB) to bring solar energy to thirty Jefferson County, Colorado public schools.  Combining federal and state incentives, as well as Xcel Energy renewable energy rebates, Jeffco Public Schools pays no upfront costs, and the project is expected to save Jefferson County taxpayers $1 million in energy costs over the next 20 years.
This January, the Jeffco solar project began to produce energy at district schools.  In total, there will be 30 systems operating on campuses across the district, producing a collective 4.1 million kilowatts a year.  While this is only a fraction of the total energy used annually, it’s a start.  “With declining resources, any money saved goes a long way, even if it’s just enough to save one or two teachers’ jobs – initially,” notes Tom MacDonnell, Energy Management Coordinator at Jeffco Public Schools.  “As the project progresses, we should receive more and more savings.”
In fact, Jeffco has been exploring opportunities to decrease the environmental footprint of their schools for years.  The district started an energy conservation program in 1993 and has participated in EPA’s EnergyStar and Tools for Schools programs.  Around that same time, Kirk Stokes, VP of Business Development at GPP approached Jeffco about a solar program.  However, the program was cost-prohibitive.  It wasn’t until funding from RSB Funds helped cover the cost of installation and management of the solar panels that the project took off.

The Jeffco solar project also enables the district to reallocate resources and strengthen its curriculum.  Next fall, Jeffco is anticipating the launch of Teach the Teachers, a classroom education piece that teaches students and teachers about solar power and other energy-saving measures.  Students will learn how to live a more sustainable lifestyle and develop an understanding of the science and technology behind their green choices.  The program, a collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), will introduce a curriculum in partnership with Jeffco’s science department in the 30 schools that are participating in the solar project.  Once the curriculum is developed and tested, Jeffco hopes that other schools will also adopt alternative renewable energy curriculums. 

Divya Kumaraiah is the Policy Assistant to the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation