About 30 other school districts in the area have since adopted solar, he said.
Tish Tablan, program director at Generation180, said the normalization of solar was especially potent when it came to public schools. “When schools go solar, students learn about it, they talk to parents, families are inspired,” she said, “We see a ripple effect across communities.”
Because schools often serve as community hubs in climate emergencies, which are on the rise, she said it was imperative that they are self-sufficient and resilient. After wildfires and deadly mudslides devastated Santa Barbara County, Calif., in early 2018, the school district began installing solar installations and microgrids with battery storage. Once the project is completed, as much as 94 percent of the district’s energy will come from renewable sources, according to Laura Capps, a school board member.
In the borough of Eatontown, N.J., Scott McCue, the school superintendent, said his district needed to replace its heating and ventilation systems in the face of losing $2.4 million in state funding over seven years. It sold $4.6 million in bonds to pay for energy upgrades like retrofitted lighting and solar installations, which will cover between 80 and 90 percent of the energy needs of school buildings as well as the cost of 26 new HVAC units, without using taxpayer funds.
Mr. McCue said the solar panels will also benefit the school curriculum. In 2020, New Jersey’s department of education adopted new standards requiring that climate change be taught in public schools. Mr. McCue said the new solar arrays will be used as on-site educational tools. “It’s a great hands-on way to teach students not just how solar energy helps the Earth and the environment, but also, if the project is done correctly, how it can also benefit the consumer directly,” he said.
Back in Batesville, Ark., Mr. Hester said the school district’s solar array had the entirely unexpected effect of drawing gawkers to what he described as the “the sexiest thing we’ve done”: putting up solar canopies over the loading zones at the junior and senior high schools. Soaring and vast, they provide shelter from the rain and sun, and may well be the closest thing Batesville has, at least appearance wise, to an international airport.
After the canopies went up, carloads of people, many of them decades past their high school days, began coming by during off-hours and weekends to take them in and snap pictures, Mr. Hester said. “It has just gone crazy,” Mr. Hester said.