Fiedler tours Carlisle Area School District solar array with labor and environmental leaders

CARLISLE, April 11 – On Thursday, state Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Phila. toured a solar array at Carlisle Area School District with labor and environmental leaders. The visitors met with school officials and discussed the benefits of their solar project and Fiedler’s Solar for Schools legislation.

Bellaire Elementary School in Carlisle Area School District is run 100% on solar energy. District-wide, energy bills have been cut 14% thanks to its solar array.

Superintendent Colleen Friend said that the economic benefits to the district have been “incredible,” and she’s looking forward to sharing the benefits of the solar array, from energy costs and educational opportunities, with more schools. Friend even described a “Shark Tank”-style student project, in which eighth grade students pitched school administrators on ways to make their school buildings more energy efficient.

“Carlisle has always looked toward the future. Since our adoption of solar energy more than 10 years ago, we’ve been able to save on energy costs and bring educational opportunities to our students,” said Friend. “Now, we want to share what we’ve learned about the technology, savings, and maintenance to help other Pennsylvania schools explore renewable energy. Solar for Schools will make it easier for the next generation of districts to adopt solar in a way that works for their schools’ unique needs and finances.”

Also on the tour were TJ Lepera, political director for IBEW Local 98; Mike Ford, secretary-treasurer of the PA Building & Construction Trades Council; Shannon Crooker, Pennsylvania state director for Generation180; Nathan Reagle, clean energy advocate for Sierra Club; Joe Gusler, president and business manager for the Central Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council; and Carolyn Heckman, Pennsylvania policy and outreach coordinator for the Evangelical Environmental Network.

Fiedler’s Solar for Schools bill would create a grant program to fund solar energy projects at public k-12 schools, community colleges, and career and technical schools so districts could generate their own energy. It’s designed to help schools recoup money lost from skyrocketing, fluctuating energy bills, while the construction will bring family-sustaining jobs to school communities.

The bill is championed by an unprecedented blue-green coalition of labor, education, environmental and industry groups thanks to its potential to help Pennsylvania meet climate goals, strengthen the labor movement, and provide a tool to tackle the school funding crisis at once. It passed the House with bipartisan support in June.

On the tour, labor leaders praised the legislation, citing its potential to create good-paying jobs in school communities.

“Labor wants to be a part of sending kids to sustainable schools, and that starts with putting highly trained workers into clean energy industries like solar,” Lepera said. “Solar for Schools would open up more opportunities for our members to get to work.”

Shannon Crooker, Pennsylvania state director for Generation180, noted that Carlisle is part of a larger movement of school districts installing solar panels.

“Across the country, we’re seeing schools adopt solar energy as a way to contribute to a healthier planet and take control of their finances,” Crooker said. “Schools like Carlisle are leading the way in Pennsylvania, and Solar for Schools could be the boost we need to empower more schools to go solar.”

Fiedler agreed, sharing that the bill is designed to help schools with fluctuating and unpredictable energy costs, shrinking tax bases, or declining enrollment access one tool that could help them ameliorate financial issues.

“Our schools are facing tough times right now, and this bill is a great way to help them become more self-sufficient. With a combination of state funds and federal IRA money, it’s designed to help schools that may not ordinarily be able to put up the money to access clean energy projects,” Fiedler said.

These visits follow a previous tour of Pa. schools interested in solar energy in 2023.