Established by the State Legislature in 2021 the Solar for Schools Grant Program is designed to stimulate the installation of solar energy systems on Minnesota public schools, K-12 as well as state colleges and universities, while using the opportunity to integrate renewable energy use into school curriculum. There are two programs:
Outside Xcel Energy Territory (Minn. Stat. 216C.375): The Minnesota Department of Commerce developed and administers the Solar for Schools program for schools outside of Xcel Energy Territory, detailed in subsequent sections. Program inquiries should be directed to SolarForSchools@state.mn.us.
Within Xcel Energy Territory (Minn. Stat. 216C.376): Schools within Xcel Energy Territory, which is primarily in the Twin Cities metro area, must apply directly through Xcel Energy’s program. Visit the Xcel Solar*Rewards page or email SolarProgramMN@xcelenergy.com to learn more.
Demand for Solar for Schools grants has already exceeded the funds available. The Minnesota Department of Commerce received 122 applications, totaling $11.8 million in grant requests, $4.6M over the $7.2M program budget.
In the first round of funding, Solar for Schools is on track to award about $7.5 million in grants for up to 80 schools in 45 school districts (listed below) across the state. Per the statute, grants are awarded based on the financial need of the school, with projects receiving between 25-95% of the total project costs to install solar panels on school rooftops or school grounds. These projects would add renewable energy as a source to power schools and offer over 160 thousand students with hands-on learning about solar power and renewable energy technology.
Independent and Special school districts (Type 1 and Type 3) as well as state colleges and universities are eligible to apply for Solar for Schools grants. Per the statute, grants are awarded based on the financial need of the school, with projects receiving between 25-95% of the total project costs to install solar energy systems up to 40kWac. For K-12 schools, the maximum allowable grant size is determined by the most recent Adjusted Net Tax Capacity (ANTC) divided by the Adjusted Pupil Unit (APU). For state colleges and universities, the maximum allowable grant will be 40% of the system cost, up to $48,000. Public K-12 schools are encouraged to use the following resources to determine grant eligibility as well as the maximum allowable grant size for their district.
Project IDs: Prior to beginning an application, schools must first obtain a unique project ID number from Commerce by emailing SolarForSchools@state.mn.us. The email must include the school primary point of contact’s name, title, phone number, and email address along with the school/building name, school district/university or college system, district number, and office mailing address. Schools should be prepared to provide the ID on all correspondence including emails, phone calls, the application, and technical assistance.
Step 1 – Notice of Intent: School Readiness Assessment: The Notice of Intent: School Readiness Assessment is used to demonstrate a school’s readiness to move forward with procuring a solar PV system. This step incentivizes schools to do some level of background research, figuring out go/no-go situations, preparing them for the procurement process. In general, schools will have had to have contacted their electric utility, explored potential installation sites, identified potential roadblocks, begun planning and implementing solar-related curriculum for students, and demonstrated school support for pursuing solar. Schools are encouraged to use this PDF List of Readiness Assessment Questions to prepare their application, or reach out to the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) for free technical assistance.
Step 2 – Full Grant Application: Those schools deemed ready to apply will be invited to complete a Full Grant Application. At this stage, grant funds are tentatively reserved for a school’s project. Schools have roughly three months to move through the procurement process, select a developer, and complete the full grant application. The Full Grant Application must be completed by the school’s selected solar developer. This portion of the process will require submission of final project details including PV system details such as total cost and lifetime savings, selected developer information, final installation site details, and more. If a school meets all requirements pertaining to the full application, they will have one year from the start of their contract with the Department of Commerce to complete the installation and commissioning of the system.
The Department has partnered with Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) to provide free general guidance and technical assistance to Applicants at any stage of the solar development process. CERTs, in a statewide partnership with the Department, connects individuals and their communities to the resources they need to identify and implement community-based clean energy projects. CERTs empowers communities and their members to adopt energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy technologies and practices for their homes, businesses, and local institutions.
Schools are encouraged to reach out to CERTs for unbiased technical and general assistance in preparation to meet the Readiness Assessment or Full Grant Application requirements. The following is a non-exhaustive list of the free services that CERTs can provide to schools: