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University of Minnesota Extension

Economic impact of the Solar Schools Project

Key findings

Men installing solar panels on a roof
  • Direct effect: The Solar Schools Project paid $3,508,500 to install solar panels. The largest expense was for equipment, accounting for 42 percent of total project costs. The IMPLAN model estimated that 74 workers were hired to complete the work and were paid $1.6 million in labor income.

  • Total economic impact: The Solar Schools Project generated an estimated $7.8 million of economic activity in the region. Of this, $3.2 million was labor income paid to area residents. The project also supported an estimated 88 jobs.

    • Top industries affected: Of the estimated $7.8 million in economic activity, $3.5 million was directly for the project's work. The other $4.3 million was at other businesses in the region. Top industries affected included owner-occupied dwellings (homeowners), real estate, and hospitals.

    • Direct spending impact: Of the $3.5 million in direct spending, 66 percent was spent at companies that have a solar product line.

  • Tax impact: The Solar Schools Project generated an estimated $197,460 in taxes. The highest amount of taxes paid included sales taxes of $75,380 and property taxes of $54,350.

  • Solar in the regional economy: Solar power generation is part of the utility industry. According to IMPLAN, the utility industry is one of the region’s smallest, employing fewer than 50 people and generating $10.8 million in output.

About this report

In the mid-2010s, the Region Five Development Commission developed a bold plan to install solar panels on public school buildings. The plan involved working in partnership with the region’s public school districts and local renewable energy companies. The project presented an opportunity to raise awareness of renewable energy, develop a skilled renewable energy workforce, and support locally based renewable energy companies — all while potentially providing cost savings and reliable energy to schools.

In 2015, Xcel Energy’s Renewable Development Fund awarded nearly $2 million in grant money to the project. A private tax credit investor also contributed to the project. Total project costs were slightly more than $3.5 million. Four schools, in collaboration with three utility companies, installed six solar arrays. The arrays will generate 1.5 MW of energy. Project schools included Pine River/Backus and Pequot Lakes K-12 schools and two Central Lakes College sites (Staples and Brainerd).

The development and installation of the solar panels has generated economic activity in the region. To measure this, the Region Five Development Commission asked University of Minnesota Extension to quantify the economic impact.

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Authors: Brigid Tuck, senior economic impact analyst; Ryan Pesch, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2019

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