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Natural Resources

New WI Program Aims to Boost Solar Power in Schools

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MADISON, Wis. -- Solar installations aren't just for homes and businesses. Thousands of K-through-12 schools across the country have them, and the goal of a new program is to add more Wisconsin schools to the list.

The Midwest Renewable Energy Association has announced a plan to provide grants of $20,000 each to up to 100 schools to install a solar module on their campus. Amanda Schienebeck, the association's solar-program coordinator, said they hope to join the small but growing wave of states embracing this type of energy for academic structures.

"There's not been a lot of school-specific pushes," she said, "and I think that schools are ripe for an opportunity to go after solar installers." She said California, New Mexico and New Jersey are among the top states, where at least 10% of schools have gone solar.

Wisconsin isn't far behind; it was ranked ninth on a list compiled by the Solar Energy Industries Association. That report found that more than 5,000 U.S. schools use solar power and have doubled their solar capacity in the past five years. Despite the strong push at the school level, Schienebeck said Wisconsin's overall solar output usually doesn't rank high on most lists. She said they hope to change that in the coming years.

"In terms of solar in general, a lot of opportunities for improvement," she said. "Some of that is from the policies that we have in place."

Her group and other solar advocates say one potential improvement is a bill in the Wisconsin Senate that would offer reimbursement grants to employers for payment of employee training and certification in wind- and solar-energy technologies. The study is online at seia.org, and the text of the state Senate bill, SB 218, is at legis.wisconsin.gov.

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