The environment is a hot topic across the country, and the increased discussion on environmental issues is providing new opportunities for Ohio school districts to increase awareness, conserve resources, and help educate future members of Ohio’s developing “green economy.” As more alternative energy manufacturers and producers move into the state, more jobs are being created for individuals with knowledge and experience in related fields. With the help of grants, loan programs, financial incentives, and other means of support, you can establish an alternative energy program in your district to help prepare students for these careers, and the Green Strategies Group at Bricker & Eckler LLP can help make it happen.

Produce Your Own Energy

Producing energy through alternative sources is not only technologically feasible but may also be educationally beneficial for your school district. As Ohio moves towards creating more “green jobs” related to alternative energy, educating the next generation of workers on environmental issues and energy sources becomes increasingly important. Installing and maintaining equipment such as solar panels or wind turbines on campus can give students a unique opportunity to participate in an alternative energy project and begin to learn the skills necessary for related careers. Of course, producing your own energy can have significant financial benefits as well. The following are a few ideas to help get you started:

Grants for alternative energy projects. The Ohio Department of Development’s Ohio Energy Green Strategies Bulletin No. 02-10 Green Strategies Bulletin Office operates a Renewable Energy Program, which helps to provide funding for solar and wind projects by governmental entities located within the service districts of certain electric companies. Your school district may be eligible to receive grants for solar or wind projects through this program.

Issue Clean Renewable Energy Bonds. Your school district may be eligible to benefit from Clean Renewable Energy Bonds that help raise money for renewable energy projects. The program is operated through the Internal Revenue Service and was recently extended through the end of 2009. School districts in other states such as Texas, Montana, California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey have already issued millions of dollars in bonds for solar and wind projects.

Do your homework for wind power. Wind power may be a possible alternative energy source for your schools, particularly if your district is located in northwest Ohio or near Lake Erie. Before a wind turbine is sited at your school district, however, a year-long wind study may help determine whether your location gets enough wind to justify the cost of the turbine. Green Energy Ohio operates an anemometer loan program that allows entities such as school districts to borrow the equipment necessary to measure their wind resources and determine whether wind power is a viable option for your district, and several school districts have already taken advantage of this opportunity. Regardless of whether wind power is ultimately right for your district, conducting a wind study gives students the opportunity to monitor wind data and learn more about wind energy. Remember, funding isn’t limited to these opportunities and may be available through a number of creative mechanisms depending on your project. Alliances with non-school entities, for example, may allow the project to benefit from other types of funding not otherwise available to schools. A little ingenuity in designing your project may go a long way towards filling in that funding gap and turning your alternative energy plans into reality.

Use Less Energy to Conserve Resources and Funding

Going green is not just about conserving resources and saving the planet. It can also help conserve financial resources and help save your district’s bottom line. Schools interested in reducing expenditures on energy have a variety of funding sources available to help get started:

Build green schools. The Ohio School Facilities Commission has adopted the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for all new school construction that the Commission will fund in the future. Also, Ohio’s recent landmark energy legislation, Senate Bill 221, mandates that the Commission adopt rules to ensure that all its new school buildings are “solar-ready” and can support roof-top solar installations. For more information on green school construction, see our companion brochure.

Renovate for increased efficiency. If your energy plan calls for structural changes to help conserve energy, the Ohio School Facilities Commission’s Energy Conservation Program under House Bill 264 may be useful not only to help fund improvements such as better insulation for walls and windows, but also to install alternative energy sources such as geothermal heating units to heat and cool your school while reducing your dependence on natural gas. The program allows such projects to be undertaken using funding mechanisms such as un-voted bonds or shared-savings contracts.

Audit your energy use and put your findings into practice. Evaluate your school’s energy use with software to determine where savings can be found. For example, the ENERGY STAR program can help audit your energy use and create a plan to reduce it. An Iowa school district participating in the program saved $1.2 million over the last five years, while a district in Pennsylvania has realized $2.5 million in just two years. Once you have discovered areas of potential energy savings, train students and staff to implement conservation principles to maximize the benefits.

Update your transportation. The Ohio Department of Development and the Ohio EPA have programs to help school districts across the state retrofit their diesel buses to reduce air emissions and encourage districts to switch to cleaner-burning fuels. In October 2008 alone, nearly $400,000 in grant money was issued to six school districts to retrofit over 200 buses. Funding may also be available through an Ohio Department of Development program that helps school districts offset the cost of using B20, a fuel for diesel engines that is one-fifth biodiesel.

We Can Help Make It Happen

Through the implementation of these and other strategies, Ohio schools have the opportunity to reduce their energy costs, improve their bottom line, and prepare their students for jobs in the new green economy. The Bricker & Eckler LLP Green Strategies Group, working in conjunction with the Education Industry Group, has the knowledge and experience to assist in the planning, financing, and initiation of alternative energy projects, LEEDcertified school construction projects, and energy conservation programs. Additionally, we can help you craft creative funding solutions to take maximum advantage of the financial resources that are available. We would pleased to help your school district “go green” for a better tomorrow.