Pine River-Backus Schools

Minnesota’s Solar Schools

“Who can raise their hand and tell me how many solar panels are out there?” Erica Bjelland, a Program Development Specialist with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, poses the question to a group of students at the Pine River-Backus Elementary School. A room full of hands shoot up in the air, “2,224”.

Erica’s organization in partnership with the Region Five Development Commission recently helped the Pine River Backus School District install a 660-kilowatt solar array on their school grounds, which produces enough energy to power 104 homes annually.

“Today’s youth are making tomorrow’s energy choices.” says Erica. “They are going to be not only the next solar workforce. They will be installing solar on their homes and seeing a lot more solar in general.”

Meaningful Savings

Energy bills are the second largest cost for Minnesota schools. From Two Harbors to Winona, more and more schools across the state are turning to solar power to reduce the amount of money they have to spend on electricity.

The Pine-River Backus School District has seen the benefits of solar first-hand. “We’re estimating that around 80% of our energy usage is produced through the solar array. And we have seen up to $5000 a month in savings,” says Superintendent Dave Endicott. “It’s been a really good conversation for the communities that we serve. To be able to go out and say ‘you’re the stakeholders here, we want to be mindful of the dollars that you give us.’”

As Edicott explained in a recent interview, “[That] could mean a teacher. So if we run into a budget shortfall somewhere down the road, now we have something that might be able to keep that position in place.”



The PR-B School District covers 80% of their energy needs with on-site solar.


Monthly Savings

The Pine River-Backus School District achieves $5,000 in monthly energy savings.

Valuable Lessons

In addition to savings, on-site solar power provides schools the opportunity to give their students hand-on experience with new technology in rapidly growing job field. A number of organizations in Minnesota now offer a K-12 “solar schools” curriculum to ensure students of all age levels can learn about how the solar panels on their schools work.

“They get to learn about these technologies and think about them as real careers,” says Cheryal Lee Hills, Executive Director of the Region Five Development Commission. “No matter where they come from, no matter their zip code, no matter where they’re going. Hopefully it gets them excited and thinking… not necessarily just the renewable energy industry, but any STEM [Science/Technology/Engineering/Math] opportunity.”

Solar for your School?

Are you interested in bringing solar power to your school? Connect with the Clean Energy Resource Teams to learn more.