Fossil fuel companies lied bigtime. What action do we take?

May 18, 2022

Over the past few years, an epic tale of intrigue has rocked the climate change community – a story that reflects the best of crime fiction but that sadly is all too real. Since 2015, a growing body of evidence has revealed the extent to which Big Oil companies and other fossil fuel majors covered up their role in fueling climate change, sowing uncertainty and failing to head off the impacts we’re now seeing in the form of wildfires and other climate disasters. But the cat’s out of the bag. So how can we hold the industry accountable and move forward?

What they knew

A recent three-part PBS documentary on “the power of big oil” is downright outrage-inducing. Based on interviews with industry scientists and on thousands of internal documents (many newly uncovered), it details how ExxonMobil knew for decades that burning fossil fuels increases carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and causes climate change, posing “catastrophic” risks to the planet. Yet the company (and others) invested billions of dollars over 40-plus years in a concerted effort to spread misinformation, delay action, and keep profits flowing. 

Meanwhile, the science was (and is) solid. Even by the 1980s, there was widespread agreement in the scientific community, including among NASA government experts, that rising temperatures would bring about significant climate changes – with the only uncertainty being “where that was going to happen and how fast.” But once ExxonMobil realized that climate action posed an existential threat to its business, it oiled its well-funded propaganda machine and began misleading the public about the “inconclusive science” on the issue.

And it worked. Gus Speth, in his 2021 book They Knew, details how seven successive US administrations (from Carter to Trump), driven by industry pressure and anti-regulation ideology, remained wedded to the fossil fuel economy, despite knowing about the impending risks of climate change and their link to oil, gas, and coal. Even as the country started feeling real-world climate impacts, the industry downplayed the urgency of climate action, discrediting scientists and doling out talking points for politicians aimed at derailing a carbon tax and other key climate legislation.

Ongoing denial and inaction

The worst part is, it’s still happening – preventing us from rapidly transitioning to the clean energy future we need. The well-strategized climate-denial playbook is going strong, as the fossil fuel industry continues to use its vast PR machine to slow climate action while touting its “green” contributions (including false solutions like carbon capture and storage). Unanimous Republican opposition as well as the industry’s chokehold on key Democrats have blocked President Biden’s efforts to pass climate legislation, and now companies are using the excuse of the war in Ukraine to expand oil and gas production.

In an October Congressional hearing on the role that fossil fuels have played in fueling climate change, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods denied that the company lied about climate change, claiming it “has long acknowledged the reality and risks of climate change and…has devoted significant resources to addressing those risks.” Yet even the latest IPCC report states with high confidence that U.S. climate action has been delayed “due to misinformation about climate science that has sowed uncertainty, and impeded recognition of risk.” 

Moving forward: how you can hold the industry accountable

As the climate crisis approaches “code red for humanity,” we need to acknowledge the time we’ve lost and then move forward quickly, so we don’t continue to miss opportunities to speed the clean energy transition. Key politicians are now acknowledging that they were misled on the science, and even former industry flaks admit to being on the wrong side of history. Given what we now know about what the industry knew about climate change, it’s time to feel empowered, not despondent. Each of us has a role to play, in our own spheres of influence. Here are a few areas for action:

Get informed, and then share what you’ve learned

Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) has noted that, “We won’t solve the climate crisis unless we solve the misinformation crisis.” Take a closer look at the language that fossil fuel companies are using, and be skeptical. Try to see through the hype, and help others do it too. Spread awareness about climate falsehoods and have hard conversations. Speth hopes his book (and similar exposés) enrages people and spurs them to take action.

Support climate-related legislation, and the politicians behind it

Call your representatives to hold them accountable on the climate issue, and urge them to also hold fossil fuel companies accountable. Vote for politicians who support climate policy, including measures to phase out subsidies and other financial support for fossil fuels. Meanwhile, expose politicians who are denying the issue and failing to take action. Support the Polluters Pay Climate Fund Act, which would require fossil fuel companies to pay into a fund based on a share of their global emissions. 

Engage in shareholder activism

Perhaps the greatest threat to the fossil fuel industry is the potential loss of investors as companies continue to ignore impending risks to their financial viability. Both ExxonMobil and Chevron faced massive shareholder revolts last year pressuring the companies to take climate action, and the upcoming proxy season should be a nail-biter. If you’re a shareholder, use your proxies to vote for climate-related resolutions. Another option is to buy a green share so you can file and support resolutions, or you can divest from fossil fuel companies altogether and invest in fossil-free funds. Also, urge the SEC to support a proposed new rule that would require companies to report on how climate change affects their business. Universities are businesses too and when they divest, it amounts to billions of dollars funneled away from fossil fuel projects. Many schools have already divested thanks to student pressure—follow this guide for where to start with your alma mater.

Support climate-related creative communications

PR folks have played a key role in perpetuating misinformation, but they can also be a force for good. The Clean Creatives campaign and Fossil Free Media help artists and communicators reject highly polluting work and work with organizations to fight the fossil fuel industry. Recent examples of creatives pushing back are Banksy’s enigmatic murals, clever spoofs of Shell ads, late-night comedy’s dedicated Climate Night, the YouTube comedy channel ClimateTown, and Europe’s Badvertising campaign to stop ads fueling the climate crisis. Even museums are ditching fossil fuel company sponsorship. If you’re a creative, take the CleanCreative pledge to “decline any future contracts with fossil fuel companies, trade associations, or front groups.” Also, check out Gen180’s Climate Comedy Cohort.

Lobby the media to get on board

According to critics, the media has “let us down big time” on climate, largely ignoring the misinformation scandal and preventing people from knowing about it. Journalist Mark Hertsgaard asserts that the fossil fuel industry’s deception needs to “be central to the public narrative.” This requires news outlets to commit to doing much sharper coverage of these issues. Check out Covering Climate Now for briefings and tips on how to better tell the story. If social media is your gig, try using greentrolling to counter industry-funded deception. 

Find hope in the courts

The legal risks to fossil fuel companies of continuing to spread misinformation – and of failing to back up their words with actions – are growing. We also need a “judicial kick in the pants” to ensure that the federal government will be accountable and take action on climate. Several cities and states, including New York and Massachusetts, have filed legal actions accusing fossil fuel companies of misleading investors and consumers about the impacts of climate change on their business (see this running tally of climate-related litigation). Visit #ExxonKnew to encourage the U.S. Department of Justice and State Attorneys General to investigate Exxon and other fossil fuel majors complicit in climate deception.

Above all, mobilize

Moving forward, we need to be persistent and to apply constant pressure for action, through a massive citizen mobilization to drive change. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that climate change likely isn’t going away. This means supporting local resilience efforts and helping to fortify our communities against the impacts that can no longer be avoided, in part because of the decades we’ve lost in delay. Speth’s recipe for effective action? “Relentless citizen presence, mobilization, activism, demands, funny things, serious things, and not letting up.”

Relentless citizen presence, mobilization, activism, demands, funny things, serious things, and not letting up.


School district aims to produce more clean energy than it consumes

May 17, 2022

This story was originally written for the Powering a Brighter Future in Pennsylvania; a 2022 report on solar at Pennsylvania K-12 schools.

Midd-West School District, a small district serving 2,100 students at four schools in the Middleburg Borough in rural, central Pennsylvania, currently holds the title for the largest school district solar array in the state. But it is not stopping there. Solar installations offset 95% of the districtwide electricity costs. Midd-West is planning to add more solar panels to offset 110% of its electricity use with solar and to generate additional revenue by selling the excess energy back to the grid.

Midd-West saw the value of energy savings in 2013 when it implemented a comprehensive energy efficiency strategy at West Snyder Elementary School, such as swapping all the lighting to LEDs and switching from coal-powered heating to a geothermal energy system. The success of those cost-saving upgrades prompted the district to consider the potential opportunity to go solar and find more operational savings.

A school board member, who was pursuing a solar energy system at home, helped initiate the process of bringing a solar array to the district to save on operating expenses. Midd-West issued a bid for the district’s solar project in 2019, and the two solar arrays (totaling 2.56 MW) were installed and operational by November 2020. The main array (2.1 MW) at Middleburg Elementary School covers 6 acres behind the main school complex and athletic fields. The 1.25 acre array (460 kW) installed at West Snyder Elementary brings the district closer to its goal of having a zero energy building. If the district expands its solar installation to offset 100% of its electricity consumption with onsite clean energy, then the elementary school’s only remaining fossil fuel sources would be the propane it uses to fuel kitchen appliances and backup generators.

Midd-West School District in Middleburg, PA. Credit: Greenworks Development

Midd-West was able to go solar with no upfront capital investment by utilizing a 28-year power service agreement (PSA) designed for the project by GreenWorks Development. In this third-party ownership arrangement, the customer makes monthly contract service payments for the use of the solar system.  The district pays an average estimated solar-generated electricity cost of $0.037 per kilowatt-hour over the project term, and it receives 100% of the electricity cost savings and the value of the Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) generated by the system.

The district’s solar project provides predictable low-cost energy that reduces operational costs now and protects against rising electricity costs in the future. The energy savings enables the district to stretch its budget further and invest more into critical resources and services for students. To date, Midd- West has been saving $145,000 on its annual electric bill, and the annual savings will increase as the utility rates rise. After the fifth year of operation, the district will have the option to purchase the system using 100% financing, which is expected to further increase the cash flow to the district.

The current 2.6 MW solar installation is estimated to save the district more than $9 million over the 40-year life expectancy of the solar panels. Midd-West is planning to add 437 kW of solar, at no upfront cost to the district, in order to reach 110% electricity offset. That addition would increase the estimated 40-year project savings by another $2.3 million.

Solar Project Highlights

  • Location: Middleburg, PA
  • District Size: 2,100 students at 4 schools
  • Installed Capacity: 2.56 MW – The largest solar installation at a K-12 school in PA
  • Structure: 6,268 bifacial solar panels across two ground- mounted arrays of 2.1 MW and 460 kW
  • Energy Offset: Currently 95% of the district’s annual energy use and moving toward 110% energy offset
  • Cost Savings: $9 million estimated over 40 years
  • Financing: 28-year third-party power service agreement (PSA) with GreenWorks Development with option for system buyout after 5 years

Philadelphia students prepare for their Bright Solar Futures

May 17, 2022

This story was originally written for the Powering a Brighter Future in Pennsylvania, a 2022 report on solar at Pennsylvania K-12 schools. Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Energy Authority

Pennsylvania has been ranked as a top state for solar employment growth since 2015, and the state has a need to develop a stream of trained solar workers to fill these positions. Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA), an independent body established in 2010 to leverage clean energy as a tool for economic development, stepped up to the challenge along with the School District of Philadelphia in developing a new generation of diverse solar workers in the area. In 2019, PEA provided introductory solar trainings to two cohorts of high school students to pilot elements of a new solar curriculum. This laid the groundwork to establish a first-of-its-kind Solar Career and Technical Education (CTE) program to help meet Philadelphia’s demand for a trained solar workforce. 

Through the Bright Solar Futures program, we are building a diversified clean energy workforce – one that provides an on-ramp to meaningful careers for populations that are traditionally excluded from the clean, green economy and yet most burdened by the high cost of energy inefficiencies. These…learning opportunities are about bringing new communities into the work of addressing climate change.”
– Shonique Banks, Pennsylvania Energy Authority, Director of Development and Workforce Initiatives

In Fall 2020, the Bright Solar Futures program was launched to provide young people in Philadelphia with the skills they need to fill solar jobs. The three-year CTE program, spanning 10th to 12th grade, engages students in 1,080 hours of class time to prepare them to earn the credentials required to become a solar installer, one of the fastest-growing jobs in the nation. The development of the Bright Solar Futures program was funded by a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and is implemented in collaboration with a network of partners, including Solar States and YouthBuild Philly.

The program introduces students to all aspects of work in the solar industry: sales, design, and the technical components of installation. Instruction takes place at Frankford High School, where the recent opening of a state-of-the-art solar training lab represents a milestone in Pennsylvania’s equitable transition to clean energy. In addition to hands-on training in the lab, the students go on field trips to multiple solar sites and participate in paid summer internships.

The Bright Solar Futures program equips students with a marketable vocational skills, along with the confidence to pursue future clean energy careers. Upon graduation, students are prepared to earn three key industry credentials: OSHA10, which is required for any construction work; the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP®) Associate Credential, essential for applying to entry-level solar jobs; and the Construction and Skilled Trades Selection System (CAST) credential, required for some utility jobs. 

Twenty students were actively enrolled in the program during the 2021-22 school year, and ten more 9th graders signed up for 2022-23, with the first graduating class expected in 2023. By connecting clean energy to the classroom, the Bright Solar Futures program jumpstarts careers for those who are positioned to benefit the most and grows the clean energy workforce of tomorrow. PEA has plans to scale the Bright Solar Futures program statewide and is packaging the curriculum so that it is easy for other school districts to replicate. 

This program has enabled [students] to take control of their future in a way that will have a positive impact on their community and their environment…. Having a meaningful career path to work toward that pays well has given many of the solar energy technology students a sense of direction and a reason to try in school.”
Jordan Crolly, School District of Philadelphia, Solar Energy Technology Teacher

Pennsylvania Energy Authority has also worked with the School District of Philadelphia to bring solar energy systems to its campuses and reduce the hefty $45 million electricity bill that it pays each year. In 2019, a PEA study analyzed the solar potential of four schools in the district and found that the district could install 1.1 MW of solar on four buildings that would offset around 45% of the total electricity consumption at those schools. This has the potential to save the district over $1.8 million year-by-year for electricity.


Youth activists in Pittsburgh call for groundbreaking climate action 

May 17, 2022

This story was originally written for the Powering a Brighter Future in Pennsylvania; a 2022 report on solar at Pennsylvania K-12 schools.

Youth climate activists across Pittsburgh are speaking up and asking their school districts to take a stand in the fight against climate change. While this region has a long history of coal and natural gas production, these young people are making a new name for Pittsburgh as a hub for youth climate action. In 2019, Woodland Hills School District became the first in Pennsylvania to pass a school board resolution on climate change. In 2021, the district received a national award from the Green Schools National Network and the Center for Green Schools for its successful climate initiatives.

The growing student-led climate movement has been supported by the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Communitopia, whose mission is to provide transformative climate change education that develops youth leaders and advances equitable solutions in environmental justice communities. Margeaux Everhart, an eighth-grade teacher at Woodland Hills Junior High School, was inspired to help start a youth climate action team during a workshop hosted by Communitopia. Her class organized a campaign calling on the Woodland Hills School Board to pass a climate change resolution. These eighth graders sent 27 personalized letters and spoke at school board meetings to encourage their leaders to take climate action.

We believe supporting the teaching of climate change in schools and facilitating youth activism are important ways to combat climate change on a community level, especially since policies put in place today will impact us the most in the future.”
Katie Green, Student at Woodland Hills Jr./Sr. High School and Member of Woodland Hills Climate Action Team


The school board unanimously adopted a resolution that acknowledges climate change as a serious concern for this generation and commits to the formation of a new multistakeholder Climate Action Committee to guide the district in moving forward on climate protection efforts and engage every part of the school community. In September 2021, Woodland Hills School District released its action plan, which includes ambitious goals to have zero carbon emissions, to have all educators teaching a climate action unit, and to have 80% of the student population engaged in climate advocacy by the year 2050. The Climate Action Committee is working on its next steps to go solar on its school buildings and make progress in meeting its emission reduction goals. 


When Should I Get Solar?

May 11, 2022

Since we got solar on our home almost three years ago, we’ve had dozens of conversations with others asking me all sorts of questions about it. How does it work? What does it cost? How long do the panels last? What about clouds? And one of the most common: “When should I go solar?” We’ve hit on the basics of rooftop solar before but didn’t get too far into the details.

I recently wrote an article titled When should I buy an EV? that has become popular among our readers. So I figured a lot of people likely have the same question when it comes to solar.

Solar tends to feel a bit more of a technical endeavor than electric vehicles, and frankly, that’s because some of the specifics are. I’ll be diving into some of the reasons solar works or doesn’t work for some households, but know this: most solar installers will do all this work for you. While it can be helpful to know some of the ins and outs of why a solar company is making decisions, you don’t necessarily have to get bogged down in the details if you don’t want to. 

The easiest way to start? Grab a few free quotes from EnergySage within minutes, or keep reading to see exactly when solar makes sense for you. You can also check out Google’s Project Sunroof to get a savings estimate and find out solar works for your home.

Practicality—Is Solar Practical for My Home?

Roof direction

Solar panels work best when installed on a south-facing roof. Type in your address to Google Maps for an easy way to get a general idea of the direction of the slopes of your roof. A south-facing roof ensures that your solar panels are getting the most amount of sunlight for the day as possible. Project Sunroof may also be able to give you an immediate idea of the solar potential of your home.

Just because your roof isn’t facing the perfect direction doesn’t mean solar is out of the question. Personally, I have solar panels on the back and front of my roof, which faces southwest and northeast respectively, and solar still absolutely makes sense for us. 


Depending on your situation, shade may be a deterrent to getting solar. If you have large trees that cover a significant portion of your roof with shade, then it could drastically reduce the available area where solar panels could be installed

If you have a large tree that you love on your property that covers your roof, all is not lost.

  1. Trim: You may not need to completely cut down a tree that is shading your roof. Especially if your roof is only partially shaded, selective trimming can open up your roof in just the right amount to get enough sunlight.
  2. Half-cut solar panels. Half-cut solar panels are a type of panel that works better in shaded areas. In short, it works by doubling the number of cells on a panel. They are more expensive, so your payback period may increase—but don’t write it off until you see the final numbers.


Aside from asking about the cost, most people ask me “How many panels do you need?” This is all dependent on the household. A good solar installer will recommend getting only as large of a system as you know you’ll use. There is no real benefit to getting a system that produces more energy than you need over the course of the year.

You can find determine your required system size by looking at your electricity bills. Find the section on your bill that says exactly how many KiloWatt Hours (kWh) you used—that’s how much electricity your home needed. Ideally, a solar installer will want to see how much you used through a 12-month period.

Example: My house uses around 8,200 watt-hours of electricity per year (this includes charging our electric car). So my solar system is an 8.2kWh system.

Panels for residential homes range from 250W-435W in efficiency—the more powerful solar panels tend to cost more. If you have plenty of space for panels (such as a large roof or field to install a ground mount) then lower-efficiency panels could make more sense for you. If you have more limited space or higher than average electricity bills, then higher efficiency panels may be required.

The solar installer will calculate exactly how many panels you’ll need to produce enough electricity, but the math entails a combination of not only panel wattage rating, but also the “solar insolation” — how many hours of sun will hit the panels in a year. The Department of Energy offers a free calculator that can give you a good idea of your total roof capacity.

Getting more than one quote from different installers allows you to ensure you’re getting the right-sized system.


A solar panel’s “useful lifespan” is generally considered to be 25-30 years. However, because there are no moving parts to a solar panel, they often far outlive their warranties. In fact, the world’s first modern solar panel still works, even 60 years later

Even after a panel’s “useful life” is over, that doesn’t mean the panel is worthless or doesn’t produce any energy. There is a general rule of thumb for solar panel warranties on how much electricity they are guaranteed to produce:  You can expect a minimum of 90% of their original production output at 10 years and 80% at 25 years. Technology is improving more and more every year, and some newer panels are guaranteeing a whopping 92% of original efficiency even at 25-years-old!

This is a rule of thumb, so you should confirm with your installer the warranty of the panels you’ll use.

Bonus: Energy Efficiency

Whenever I talk to someone about getting solar panels, I always start with home energy efficiency first. The best “bang for the buck” when it comes to saving on energy costs is to first ensure your home is as efficient as possible with how it uses electricity first, and then to get solar panels to match that new efficiency.

Attic and crawlspace insulation, modern double–pane windows, properly fitting doors, and energy-efficient appliances and light fixtures are some of the best ways to reduce costs and energy use. Once you’ve ensured your home is as energy efficient as possible, then it’s time to get a solar quote.


Cost Per Watt

This is the biggest question: how much does it cost? Like with all answers, it depends. The average cost for a solar system to be installed on a home is between $18,000 and $20,000—here’s the kicker, that’s before tax incentives, which can dramatically reduce the cost of your overall system (which we’ll get into next).

When comparing quotes, the main number to pay attention to is the cost per watt. That’s how much money you’ll pay per watt of energy your system will generate.

Another Example:

Solar Company A gives you a quote of $18,000 for a 5.1kWh system — meaning you’re paying $3.53 per watt (18,000/5,100=3.529)

Solar Company B gives you a quote of $20,000 for a 7.2kWh system — meaning you’re paying $2.78 per watt (20,000/7,200=2.777).

Solar Company B is giving you a much better cost per watt than Solar Company A. Just be sure the size of your system matches the needs of your home.


There is a federal tax credit for installing a residential solar system equal to 26% of the total cost. In the above scenario, this means that $20,000 effectively only costs $14,800—a savings of $5,200 (which brings that cost per watt down to $2.05).

This federal incentive has been slowly reduced over the years (in 2019 it was 30%) and will go down to 22% in 2023. As of now, this credit expires completely at the end of 2023 and is not set to renew unless Congress acts. So if you’re interested in solar, it could make sense to take advantage of these large federal incentives sooner rather than later.

[The federal tax credit] expires completely at the end of 2023…So if you’re interested in solar, it could make sense to take advantage of these large federal incentives sooner rather than later.

Many states and localities also offer various solar incentives. Some of these manifest as cash rebates, tax credits or deductions, or property tax abatements to reduce your overall financial obligations. Check out DSIRE for a comprehensive list of all the state and local incentives for solar.


Paying outright cash for your solar system usually means the installer will provide a slight discount on the overall cost. Many homebuyers, however (myself included) will get a loan. This can be done privately or through the installer who finances via third-party financing.

Usually, solar loans require a downpayment that is equal to the amount of the tax credit. This downpayment is often deferred 12-18 months from the time your system is installed. Many times your monthly payment is also deferred until that first downpayment comes due. This is to give time for you to file your taxes and receive the tax credit.

Another example: You got a loan for a $20,000 solar system that was installed in January of 2022. You would pay no money on your loan until June of 2023. Then the downpayment of $5,200 would be due (you should have received this amount extra back in taxes by now) and your monthly payments begin.

Net Metering

One of the most important pieces of residential solar is the term “net metering.” This is a blanket term for a number of different policies that allow energy customers (you) to get a credit for excess electricity that you produce. Chances are, you’ll be producing more energy than you’re using during the day, and using more than you’re producing during the night.

The same goes for the season. On average, your system will produce more electricity than you need during the spring, summer, and fall months, and you’ll likely use more energy than you produce during the winter.

In short, net metering is a vital component of a successful solar system. Without it, it’s unlikely that solar makes sense for the vast majority of people.

The tricky thing about net metering is that it is not standard. It varies not only state-by-state, but also utility-by-utility. Solar Reviews does a great job of grading states based on their specific and nuanced net metering policies.

Bonus: EV charger

Some solar installers offer the ability to install an electric vehicle charger in your home, at the time of installation of your solar system. Especially if you have or are looking to purchase an electric car in the future, this can amount to thousands of dollars saved. Because electricians are already running power lines through your house, they save lots of time by running both lines for your solar and your EV charger during the same trip. In turn, this shaves hundreds or even thousands of dollars of the cost.

Getting a Quote

With the explosion in the popularity of solar in part due to the sharp reduction in costs, it’s easier than ever to find a solar installer near you. I highly recommend getting more than one quote. Similar to many large purchases such as a car, I would also recommend negotiating with the installer to get the best possible price.

The easiest way to get a handful of quotes is to go through EnergySage — a free service that allows you to get competing solar quotes without ever having to actually talk to a salesperson. However, their marketplace only shows installers that have signed up with them. It’s a quick and easy way to get a handful of quotes, but do some research into local installers near you that may not be a part of EnergySage’s marketplace.

An excellent way to leverage buying power is to join a solar co-op (which is what I did) through Solar United Neighbors. This allows multiple families in a town to pool together and request a quote as a group. Oftentimes solar installers will offer significant bulk discounts if it means they can sign on multiple homes in a short period of time.

The final calculation

While there are a lot of things to think about during the process of going solar, in the end, one final equation can help determine if it makes sense for you.

Go on your electric utility’s website and add all of your electric bills up from the past 12 months to get a full year’s worth of electricity costs.

Divide that number by twelve (12 months in a year) to get your average electrical bill payment. Assuming your potential solar system covers all of your electricity for the year, if your proposed loan payment is equal to or less than the total electrical payment, then get solar!

Proposed Solar Loan Payment Average monthly bill

This little calculation is the easiest way to determine right now if it makes immediate sense to switch to solar.


I’m not a certified financial planner and don’t pretend to offer financial advice, but even if your loan payment is slightly higher than your average bill, it may still make sense for you to go solar.

Electricity rates trend upward; it’s almost a surefire bet that your utility will raise the price of electricity in the next ten years. So your bill will likely increase, but your solar loan payment won’t. Plus, your loan is temporary. Once the solar is paid off, you’re living off free energy.

Plus, if you don’t yet own an EV, that is a great way to save even more money with solar. Because electric vehicles are cheaper to “fuel” than gasoline vehicles, your overall payback period is significantly reduced if you count the amount of money you save by charging your car with the sun. Talk about “local energy.”


School buses are rolling into the future

May 4, 2022

Summer is almost upon us, which means the weekday growl of diesel school buses will subside, for now. Imagine: What if the return to classrooms in the fall was much quieter and cleaner? No more roaring engines or smelly exhaust.

In more than 300 school communities across the country, electric school buses are beginning to make that future a reality. Many school districts in the U.S. are recognizing that the switch to electric for the journey to school can tackle several problems at once. Electric school buses are far healthier for kids and drivers, important contributors to climate goals, good for the economy, and can boost reliability on the electric grid, among many other benefits. 

School buses represent a huge opportunity for transitioning away from fossil fuels. There are about half a million of them in the U.S., 95% of which run on diesel. Others run on propane.  

Fewer than 1% of school buses currently run on increasingly clean electricity from the grid. That’s changing, though.

Making the switch to electric school buses

More school districts, cities, and states are getting on board with electric school buses. For example, in California, the San Joaquin Valley Air Control District, which encompasses eight counties in the Central Valley, recently funded a program to buy 10 buses, while Modesto City Schools made a $14 million purchase of 30 buses, which the bus manufacturer touted as the single largest order (for purchase). Boston plans to replace its entire fleet of more than 700 school buses, and New York State will do the same, requiring all new school bus purchases to be zero-emission by 2027.

Modesto City Schools’ electric school buses are parked and charging underneath a solar panel canopy. — Credit: Modesto City Schools

How schools are paying for electric school buses

A variety of models are being used to help schools pay for buses. One big source of bucks: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean School Bus Program, which will soon release $5 billion over five years to replace existing school buses with clean and zero-emission models. The program, created through the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is already preparing districts to apply for funding—and it will prioritize areas that have been historically underserved. World Resources Institute (WRI) has a helpful rundown of federal programs and other potential sources of funding here

Electric school buses tend to cost more upfront than their diesel counterparts, but they don’t have to. Companies like Highland and Thomas Built are offering fleet-as-a-service plans that essentially allow school districts to “subscribe” to fleets that the leasing company owns and maintains. Using this model, Montgomery County’s board of education placed the single largest bus order yet last year, approving a 16-year, $169 million contract to lease 326 buses. CalStart has described other deployment models, such as leasing and turnkey services, that allow school districts to mix-and-match funding, ownership and operations responsibilities with third parties.

Why school districts are getting on board

The switch to electric school bus fleets are helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially given that transportation is the nation’s largest source of climate-destabilizing pollution. Then there’s the toxicity of diesel, the byproducts of which have been linked with cancer and respiratory illnesses like asthma. There are no safe exposure levels of diesel exhaust to children, especially the youngest and those with respiratory illnesses. Reducing a child’s exposure to diesel emissions is linked to significant improvement in health and cognitive function.

Electric school buses also offer an escape from outsized fuel expenditures. 

“The cost of fuel has risen dramatically over the last few weeks — and particularly diesel,” a Modesto school official said in April. “So that was not our intention going in, but we see that as a benefit.”

“The cost of fuel has risen dramatically over the last few weeks, and particularly diesel” — Tim Zearley, Associate Superintendent, Business Services CBO

This chart from the Alternative Fuels Data Center makes it easy to see why. Check out the trend lines for propane, diesel, and electricity over the past decade. Electricity has consistently been the lowest-cost fuel with the least price volatility. 

Image Credit: U.S. Department of Energy, Alternative Fuels Data Center

With diesel pollution disproportionately impacting communities of color and overburdened neighborhoods, electric school bus plans can also be part of efforts to address longstanding inequities. As this post from WRI notes, 60% of students from low-income families ride the bus to school, and one-third of electric school bus commitments have been made by districts in the country’s top 25% most vulnerable counties, as rated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Social Vulnerability Index. However, WRI’s research also found that there is a clear correlation between high median household income and the number of school districts with committed ESBs. The picture of how these commitments actually correlate to income levels in the places that will get these buses is still evolving. 

All of these buses will need to be maintained, and some programs also involve retrofits of existing buses. So this is an economic opportunity that creates jobs, a fact Boston Mayor Michelle Wu acknowledged when she mentioned an automotive technology program in the city that would start teaching students electric vehicle maintenance. And bus manufacturer Blue Bird has estimated that converting school buses to electric is a $150 billion opportunity for American manufacturing.

Finally, electric school buses can help bolster the grid by feeding power back to it (a concept known as V2G, for vehicle-to-grid) when they aren’t on the roads. 

The bottom line is that electric school buses provide many health, financial, and environmental benefits,  and there are a lot of ways school districts can adopt the technology to lead the way in the electric transportation transition.