Utilizing every education dollar possible in the classroom is critical for student learning and achievement. Behind personnel costs, energy consumption is the second highest operational cost in a school’s budget. Under regulatory changes passed in July by the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Solar for Schools Program would have made it possible for schools to utilize low-cost solar power, shifting millions of education dollars from power bills into additional teachers, support staff, and repairs. Unfortunately, the plan is now being reconsidered because of opposition from energy providers who want to limit new forms of competition.
Last year, the PSC, Mississippi utilities, and school district representatives collaborated to produce a set of rules known as the Solar for Schools Program. It was approved on July 12, 2022, by the PSC but was withdrawn after threats of lawsuits from energy providers who wanted to limit innovation and stifle lower-cost providers.
The Solar for Schools Program would allow school districts to install solar arrays in their communities at no upfront expense, offsetting a portion or all the school district’s electricity costs. Under the program, school districts could save millions over the life of the solar array to the benefit of all in the local community. These savings come in the way of energy savings, lease income, and property taxes, which can all be put back into classrooms, teacher paychecks, repair aging facilities, purchase buses, and improve student outcomes.
By delaying the rules’ enactment, utilities continue to withhold the enormous economic development our neighboring states have realized from solar access. Arkansas was recently able to leverage a similar program with Batesville School District: energy savings allowed the district to invest in teacher retention, raising each teacher’s pay by thousands. Over 7,300 schools across the country have implemented solar, and it is time for Mississippi schools to be allowed to participate in these savings.
Thanks to our climate and geography, Mississippi is one of the best states to locate solar. Sadly, policies and industry opposition have made us one of the last adopters of solar nationally. This stance denies Mississippi K12 schools the opportunity to reduce their energy bills. It hurts jobs, stifles economic development, bars Mississippi from millions in federal tax credits, and inhibits an easy opportunity for districts to reinvest in our students, teachers, and aging facilities.
It is the role of the PSC to balance the interests of consumers with those of the utility providers. The current status quo limits our schools ability to have a voice. I speak not just for myself but for the dozens of superintendents that have already planned to reinvest solar savings to improve their districts.
This program, as previously proposed, would immediately drive investment, create permanent jobs, and advance economic growth in communities throughout Mississippi in what the Department of Labor has identified as renewable energy’s “fastest growing field.” With the ruling on pause once again, our schools cannot move forward, delaying the capital our schools need in our state.
On behalf of like-minded school leaders throughout the state, I am asking the PSC to grant Mississippi students better opportunities by enabling the Solar for Schools Program as previously agreed. I am encouraging Mississippi Power and Entergy Mississippi to embrace the program and the positive effect it will have on our school districts. With overwhelming support throughout the state, the Solar for Schools Program is a door to a better future for Mississippi’s students. To hand Mississippi schools the keys to unlock these savings, we just need support from the PSC and cooperation from our utility providers.
John-Mark Cain Superintendent, Lauderdale County School District, Meridian