Austin ISD slated for “Solar for Schools” federal grant

16 schools could get solar panels, providing cleaner air, lower utility costs and integrative learning opportunities for students

Bowen Wilder | Used by permission
Solar panels on Austin High School in Austin, Texas

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Austin ISD has been shortlisted for as much as $15 million in federal funding to install solar panels at 16 campuses in historically disadvantaged communities. AISD is the only district in the state chosen for the federal grant, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Renew America’s Schools program.

More than a dozen schools in the school district already have installed solar panels through AISD’s “Solar for Schools” program. The district has committed to consider adding solar panels as they modernize all school buildings over the next two decades This opportunity for more clean energy will bolster the city of Austin’s goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

The district’s pre-existing panels have paid off– AISD is producing more solar power than all other Texas school districts combined, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. These initiatives drastically cut utility costs, which is the largest expense for school districts after teacher salaries and benefits.

“Lowering our operating expenses for energy means increased financial stability for the school district,” Darien Clary, Austin ISD sustainability director, told Fox 7 Austin.

It is estimated that the grant will save AISD $1.2 million in energy costs annually, and likely earn them incentives for utilizing clean energy. Right now, the district spends around $20 million on energy every year.

This project comes amid rising concerns by environmentalists and parents about the impacts of fossil fuels on children’s futures. The good news is, studies show that a long-term improvement in air quality can lead to improved lung function in children and decreased incidence of asthma. Additionally, studies show that students learn better in an environment free from air pollution.

Considering that much of the pollution we breathe is emitted by power plants, clean energy such as solar provides an alternative that benefits our body, planet, and wallet.

This achievement is a long time coming. The grants come from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, which passed in 2021 and allocated $500 million in funds for the program. Demand for grants has been great, but a plethora of opportunities remain for similar rewards due to the Inflation Reduction Act.

There is no better time to implement solar energy in schools. Check out this interactive map of schools teaming up with the Texas sun to generate clean energy.

AISD’s proposal requested just under $15 million, but the grant amount will be finalized once they complete negotiations with the Department of Energy.

Apart from protecting our planet and yielding long-term savings, these projects will be used as teaching tools. Integrating discussion of green energy in classrooms will educate the future generation on sustainability for a brighter future.


Gwendolyn Reed

Communications Intern

Luke Metzger

Executive Director, Environment Texas Research & Policy Center

As the director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at three Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation and state parks. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughter are working to visit every state park in Texas.

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