Fiedler introduces legislation for solar energy grant program for PA schools

HARRISBURG, March 8 – State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Phila., today hosted a news conference where she introduced legislation that would create a grant program to expand the use of solar energy at school facilities across Pennsylvania.

The grant program, “Solar for Schools,” would issue grants to schools for solar energy projects, including costs related to equipment, installation and maintenance of solar energy systems.

“This 21st-century landmark program can save local taxpayers and school districts hundreds of thousands of dollars a year,” Fiedler said. “With the savings, local governments can reduce taxes and schools can invest in more teachers. In addition to all those benefits, solar schools projects have immense local benefits such as reducing carbon emissions and creating family sustaining jobs.”   

At the legislation roll-out, Fiedler was joined today by labor, educational and environmental leaders. The list of labor unions and organizations supporting the legislative effort includes: the PA and Philadelphia Building Trades, AFT PA, PA and Philadelphia AFL-CIO, LIUNA and IBEW.

Rob Bair, president of the Pennsylvania State Building and Construction Trades, said the grant program would create great opportunities for Pennsylvania.

“As the sun rises on a new administration, labor and the state legislature can capture that sunlight and turn it into family sustaining jobs, lower energy costs for consumers, and much-needed money for our school system,” he said.

 Arthur G. Steinberg, president of AFT Pennsylvania, a union representing 36,000 educators, paraprofessionals, school staff, higher education faculty and state workers said AFT Pennsylvania supports the program because of all it aims to protect.

“We are proud to support Representative Fiedler’s Solar for Schools bill because it takes steps to protect the health of students, educators and staff in schools, and the health of the public at large; it helps lessen our dependence on fossil fuels to ensure our air is clean and our water is pure; and it will create family-sustaining, good-paying union jobs for those installing, retrofitting, repairing and maintaining solar energy projects for our school buildings.”

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Angela Ferritto heaped praise on the Solar for Schools grant program.

“The Solar for Schools Grant Program is a critical piece of legislation that provides us with a chance to invest in our aging school buildings -- while supporting and sustaining good-paying, clean-energy union jobs. With bipartisan support, this bill would have an impact for all Pennsylvanians, and on behalf of 700,000 workers, we encourage the legislature to pass it.”

Tony Seiwell, Business Manager for the Laborers' District Council of Eastern PA said he believes that renewable energy jobs should be well-paid and provide great benefits to workers in this field.

"The laborers' union appreciates the opportunity to partner with Representative Fiedler on this legislation. It will not only help schools to reduce energy costs, but it will also help to set the standard for solar energy construction jobs. We have always believed that jobs in renewable energy can and should be well-paid, family sustaining jobs that provide health and retirement benefits, hire workers from the local community, and invest in local apprenticeship and training programs."

The legislation has strong environmental support as well, including from the Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, PennFuture and Penn Environment.

Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for Vote Solar Elowyn Corby said solar energy can help solve the climate crisis and improve the lifestyle of students and families in school districts.

"Solar energy is a cornerstone of solving the climate crisis and realizing a more just society," Corby said. "Solar’s unique ability to shift power, literally and figuratively, can lower the cost of living, create good local jobs, reduce health-harming pollution and build a brighter, more resilient future for generations to come."

The event highlighted a PA school that is already reaping the benefits of solar. Last year, Steelton-Highspire School District in Dauphin County installed a solar field that now supplies 100% of the district’s energy. Superintendent Mick Iskric said the program would replicate the benefits his district is currently enjoying in other parts of the state.

“As a traditionally underfunded school district in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, our school district looks for little wins that will allow us to drive the maximum amount of funds to our most important resource, the students. A solar renewable energy project was and continues to be that win.”

State Rep. Dave Madsen, D-Dauphin, said he believes solar energy will bring many benefits to students, teachers, and all who use educational facilities.

“Bringing solar energy to educational facilities will do more than just save money on costs and taxes; it will bring the technology that will power tomorrow right to the students who can learn from, use and seek careers in it,” Madsen said. “As we look toward a greener, more energy efficient future, we need to give our next generation the ability to use and improve upon solar energy.”

IBEW 98 Political Director T.J. Lepera brought a solar panel with him and said he believes the legislation comes at a time of need.

“Solar for Schools is an incredibly timely piece of legislation with the planet in ecological turmoil. The passage of the Solar for Schools legislation would provide a teachable moment for the commonwealth’s 1.7 million K-12 students that their planet and futures matter and are worth fighting for.”

Fiedler said her “blue-green” legislation would help PA capitalize on federal money, support schools that are installing solar panels, create jobs in a growing field and save local taxpayers money.