This case study was originally published in the 3rd edition of Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools (2020)
More than 47,000 students enjoy an up-close view of renewable energy at work at Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). The largest of its kind among K-12 school districts in Arizona, the project delivers solar energy to 80 schools and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 38.7 million pounds per year. The district has been recognized as the top green power user among K-12 schools in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Green Power Partnership, and it received the Governor’s Award for Energy & Technology Innovation.
TUSD paid nothing upfront for the system, and it projects energy cost savings of up to $43 million over 20 years. The three-phase project was financed through third-party power purchase agreements (also known as solar services agreements) with Constellation. The district will purchase the clean energy produced by the solar panels for 20 years at a fixed rate below what the utility charges.
“Solar energy at TUSD is helping a whole generation of young people understand how to be conscious energy users,”
At TUSD, solar demonstrates for the school community the value of clean energy, at work and at play. The teachers use online monitoring data to create hands-on learning opportunities, and the students enjoy the much-needed shade provided by the solar canopies installed in the play areas.
Since the completion of the project, the district has deepened its commitment to reduce utility costs and increase energy, water, and waste efficiency. An Energy Performance Innovation Committee has been established that will help the district develop and implement short-term and long-term sustainability goals and prepare guidelines for all employees and students to reduce districtwide consumption of energy, water, and waste “Solar energy at TUSD is helping a whole generation of young people understand how to be conscious energy users,” said Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.