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New Jersey lawmakers pushing solar mandate for new schools Subscribe to RSS feed

Of all the places to plant a crop of solar panels, proponents suggest that few are better than the roof of a school.

Consider its primary physical attribute: all that, often, flat surface - assuming, of course, it is not shaded by a dense tree canopy.

And the economic appeal: There's the drop in energy costs that going solar provides, and the opportunity for school districts to make money by selling the power harnessed from the summer sun that's not needed when classrooms are empty and the lights are off.

Working off that premise, New Jersey legislators are pushing a bill that would prohibit the commissioner of education from approving construction of any new school unless plans include solar panels. Bill A1084, which passed the Assembly Education Committee on Sept. 16, would apply to schools built by a school district or by the New Jersey Schools Development Authority.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Education plans to announce administrative changes to its school-construction policies during a Web conference Friday "that will reduce barriers for school districts when they consider making green and sustainable investments," said Michael Walsh, deputy secretary for administration.

Though there is a growing list of states that require new publicly funded buildings to meet certain energy-efficiency standards, solar installers nationally said they were unaware of any state that has mandated incorporating solar panels, as New Jersey has proposed.

In Pennsylvania, Dennis Maloskey, director of sustainable engineering and development at the Governor's Green Government Council, cites a number of reasons why more such mandates do not exist, especially for schools.

"Not all sites lend themselves to the successful application of solar technologies," Maloskey said. "Yet virtually every school building can cost-effectively improve its energy-use intensity through conservation and efficiency improvements."

Conservation is key, too

Assemblyman Peter J. Barnes III (D., Middlesex), a prime sponsor of the New Jersey bill, agrees that energy conservation has to be part of any school's efforts. But he adds that requiring solar on every new public school "makes sense" economically.

"It's a cost-saving measure," Barnes said, noting that school districts are in need of such financial help as their "budgets are rising faster than municipal budgets."

The measure's lead sponsor, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D., Princeton/Trenton), said the mandate would be a "wonderful" accompaniment to the $3 billion in funding for school construction that was recently approved - especially with New Jersey second only to California in the total number and total installed capacity in megawatts of solar-photovoltaic installations.

Gusciora said his intent also is to help foster more green jobs and support an industry that has established such a substantial presence in New Jersey, which does not have the kind of significant natural-resource-based economy Pennsylvania has with coal.

"It's a smart thing to do, particularly when New Jersey has a cottage solar-panel industry," he said. (source)