Here comes the sun: Mounds View schools put up solar panels

Solar panels were recently installed on the roof of Chippewa Middle School. Five more Mounds View schools, including Island Lake, Pike Lake, Pinewood elementary school, and Irondale and Mounds View high schools will have panels installed by the end of the year. (submitted photo)

Some roofs are meant to do far more than protect a building from weather, critters and a beating sun. 

According to Chippewa Middle School principal Rob Reetz, some roofs do all that and generate energy as well.

Chippewa, located at 5000 Hodgson Road, recently had solar panels installed on its exterior roof, meaning the roof won’t just be reflecting sunlight, Reetz noted, but absorbing and utilizing it for energy production. 

In what turned out to be a “somewhat complicated but completely beneficial” partnership, Reetz said Mounds View Public Schools will save nearly $1 million over the next 30 years in energy costs. 

That’s because before the school year ends, a total of six schools in District 621 will have solar panels up and running.


Good for all


Several parties are involved in this environmentally friendly, money-saving initiative, which both Reetz and Dr. Karl Brown, director of technology and community education for the Mounds View district, are calling a benefit for all participants. 

According to Brown, Innovative Power Systems, a St. Paul-based solar provider, approached the district, and asked if there was interest in partnering up for the Made in Minnesota Solar Incentive Program. 

Brown said after the details were ironed out, and a solar power purchase agreement was signed -- with no-upfront costs -- installations would begin this spring. 

Hosting the panels, according to Reetz, is not a burden. “What else would we be using our roofs for?” he said. 


Long-term savings


According to Brown, the expected lifespan of these particular solar panels is about 30 years. As part of the agreement, the school district will take complete ownership of the panels after 15 years and provide solar power to Xcel while being credited for doing so. 

“Over 30 years we’ll save $963,000 with these panels on six of our buildings,” Reetz said. “But a huge portion of that savings comes in the second 15 years, when the panels are ours.”

In the first year of having the panels up, Reetz estimated the district will save about $3,200 in electrical bills. In the 10th year, the district will save around $10,000, he said. 

“The amount we save grows each year, which accumulates over time,” Reetz explained. “And it costs us nothing to slowly save this money in energy costs.”

Reetz noted that the lifespan of the panels could outlast their 30-year projection, but he mused that at the end of that timeline, there will probably be even more efficient panels to put up and use. 

He’s excited about renewable energy options, and can foresee “panels that have a far greater ability to generate power” on the market three decades from now.

And he’s not the only one excited; he said the students are too. The difference, he noted, is that “to them this just seems more logical than crazy.”


Students’ reaction


According to Reetz, before the school even brought up the topic of environmental benefits of solar power, “the students just went there.

“The kids at Chippewa are so excited that we’re doing something that seems so forward-thinking,” Reetz said. “But it’s almost like it was a foregone conclusion for them, like they were thinking, ‘well, of course we should have solar panels on the roof of our school.’”

Chippewa, a STEAM school, focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, is using this as a learning opportunity.

“We’re trying to get our kids here to think much more deeply, giving them a little of the information but having them try to solve the rest,” Reetz said in regards to how the school and the environment is benefiting from this project. “This is a real-world problem and solution, and that’s a huge driving component in how we’re trying to teach our students.”

Reetz said school faculty and staff have received many positive reactions from people in the community.

Other Mounds View schools set to receive panels in the next few months are Island Lake, Pike Lake and Pinewood elementary schools, and Irondale and Mounds View high schools.


Jesse Poole can be reached at or at 651-748-7815. Follow him at

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