Solar Schools and Environmental Finance

About the Author

Jeff Hughes

Jeff Hughes was the Director of the Environmental Finance Center (EFC) at the UNC School of Government between 2003 and 2019. Hughes currently serves as a Commissioner in the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

North Carolina is one of the leading states in the country when it comes to installing solar energy. The growth of solar in North Carolina has been a fascinating opportunity to study the impact of different environmental finance systems. While the financial incentives and environmental finance systems available to solar developers across the state have been critical to supporting the growth of solar; not all property owners have had equal access to these incentives. Given the importance of income tax incentives to solar developers, it’s not surprising that property owners who do not pay income taxes such as schools and other non-profits have found it more difficult to install solar on their buildings. A new Solar Schools program implemented by NCGreenPower is designed to address this challenge and bring solar installations to schools across the state. The program aims to provide individual schools with a modest source of cleaner energy and more importantly provide an educational installation and opportunity to teach our future leaders about solar and other forms of energy.



Photo: Celebrating the ribbon cutting at a new solar installation at Jordan High School in Durham

The way in which solar energy is funded and incentivized has evolved over time and in the future may look quite different than it has in the past. A recent report by a group of UNC research centers highlighted some of the challenges and opportunities related to solar financing for both larger scale installations as well as small scale installations like those being installed at schools. The Solar Schools program provides an opportunity to test new funding strategies and approaches that could be used to fund other environmental programs. The current pilot Solar Schools program is designed as a cost sharing partnership between schools, large donors, and electricity customers.  Electricity customers across the state can support the program by choosing to make small recurring donations on their electric bill. These funds are collected and used by NCGreenPower to cover approximately a third of the direct labor and materials cost of installing a 5 KW installation on each participating school. Individual schools then use a variety of fundraising methods to raise approximately a third of the cost of the installations with the remainder coming from a donation from the State Employees Credit Union Foundation. To learn more about the program, visit the NCGreenPower website.

Note: The author currently serves on the board of NCGreenPower.


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