The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has released a Notice of Intent (NOI) announcing $80 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to make public K-12 schools more energy efficient and lower their energy costs, including some of the nation’s highest-need schools. The funding is the first tranche of the Renew America’s Schools grant program created by the infrastructure law to provide schools with critical energy infrastructure upgrades.
Through the grant program, DOE will fund energy and health improvements in public K-12 schools across the country. Additionally, a new DOE prize program will help resource 25 high-need school districts with the training and tools needed to improve how their schools consume energy. According to DOE, these investments will address the historic inequities of school facilities, reduce school energy costs, and improve health and learning outcomes for children and staff, while also bringing good-paying jobs to the community.
“Nearly half of our nation’s school districts – and disproportionately low-income and rural districts – struggle to maintain aging facilities and ensure classrooms are free from health hazards,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “These major investments, made possible by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will lead to healthier learning environments and lower energy costs so school districts can equitably lead on the clean energy transition.”
Energy consumption is the second-highest operational expense schools face, often requiring schools to invest in energy-related costs rather than other critical educational needs for students.
The 2021 American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2021 Infrastructure Report Card rates the nation’s school facilities in D+ condition, and a June 2020 GAO report found that about half of the public school districts are struggling to upgrade and maintain building systems that ensure facilities are free of health hazards. The GAO report found that 41% of school districts need to update or replace heating, ventilation, and HVAC systems. Districts serving historically disadvantaged communities experience the greatest burden of antiquated school facilities, and many lack the resources and expertise needed to seek federal grant funding.
The Renew America’s Schools grant aims to lower utility costs, improve indoor air quality, and reduce carbon emissions in schools across the country with a focus on rural and high-poverty school districts. This investment is the first of its kind from DOE, and eligible projects will include energy improvements that reduce building operating costs – like new HVAC and ventilation systems, building envelope and lighting projects, and alternative fuel and renewable energy technologies. Applications for the first round of this grant, with up to $80 million available for schools, will open in November 2022 and close in January 2023.
New Prize Competition to Advance Sustainable Schools
DOE is also launching the Energy Champions Leading the Advancement of Sustainable Schools Prize (Energy CLASS Prize). In response to overwhelming stakeholder feedback that many school districts lack the bandwidth and knowledge to find and fund projects, this prize facilitates capacity-building within local educational agencies (LEAs) to identify and implement health and energy improvements, especially in disadvantaged school districts.
The Energy CLASS Prize program will total $4.5 million and provide awards for LEAs to staff and train select administration and facilities personnel as energy managers. Up to 25 LEAs will receive $100,000 in cash prizes to support these energy managers’ participation in 80-160 hours of online training over a 12-month period.
Throughout the program, energy managers will develop critical skills in areas such as benchmarking, operations and maintenance, strategic energy management, navigating funding options, and community engagement. Participants will also have access to one-on-one professional mentorship and coaching on projects specific to their schools. At the conclusion of the training, LEAs can submit a progress report and – based on performance – may qualify for an additional $50,000 cash prize. Applications for the Energy CLASS Prize will open in November 2022 and close in February 2023.
To learn more about the grant and prize, visit DOE’s webpage on Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Improvements at Public School Facilities.