Hawaii Plans Solar Panels for Public Schools

State's Department of Education says it will save money and move state closer to renewable energy goals..

November 2, 2012
Manufacturing Group

Hawaii's Department of Education is proposing to install solar panels on every public school in Hawaii over the next five years to cut electricity costs and move the state closer to its renewable energy goals.

Under the proposal, a vendor would install panels at all 256 Hawaii public schools and the department would buy solar power from the vendor at a reduced rate, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. The state would have little to no upfront costs.

The department would also install more energy-efficient equipment in schools.

The department has met with the state Public Utilities Commission and will soon talk with Hawaiian Electric about the plan.

Ray L'Heureux, the department's assistant superintendent for facilities and support services, says after studying similar solar power projects around the country, he concluded the Hawaii plan is feasible -and unprecedented. "Nobody has done this yet to this size and scale," he says.

Monique Hanis, spokeswoman for the Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group, says Hawaii's plan is "one of the most ambitious we've seen."

She says she was unaware of any other case of an entire school district moving to solar power.

But, she notes, schools in other states have been installing solar power systems.

In California, 123 schools have solar power, and 40 more are installing the technology, according to the association. New Jersey has 259 public and private schools with solar power, and more than 40 schools in Arizona have installed photovoltaic systems.

Hawaii has pilot solar power projects at schools on Kauai and Oahu. In all, solar panels will be installed or have already been installed at nearly 40 schools in the state.

Hawaii would eventually sell surplus power it generates, with profits that could go back into schools. But officials don't yet have good estimates of how much the excess power will yield.

He notes that the plan would put the department well on its way toward a goal of using 90% clean energy by 2040.

Edited from the Associated Press.