Congressional Bill to Provide Schools with Renewable Energy Funds

Utah Congressman Jim Matheson is introducing the Renewable Schools Energy Act of 2006, which calls for up to $60 million in zero-interest bonds to be distributed to public school districts for the purchase of renewable energy products. The measure is limited, however, to schools in the Congressman’s home state and five nearby states.

Matheson said the bill is largely based on a successful measure incorporated in the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 that enabled school districts to apply for zero-interest bonds to pay for capital improvements. The Renewable Schools Energy Act, which is said to be identical to legislation introduced in the Senate by Nevada Senator Harry Reid, would provide zero-interest bonds to public school districts seeking to invest in renewables such as solar panels, geothermal heat pumps or small wind turbines. Repayment would be 20 years from the issuance of the bond. Total bonding authority would be $50 million in 2007 and increase to $150 million in 2009. “Schools are vulnerable to the sky-rocketing costs of energy,” said Matheson. “When their energy budgets take a hit, kids’ education suffers. This legislation will help public school districts save money, increase educational opportunities and take advantage of advances in renewable energy technology.” Unfortunately, only public school districts in Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Montana and Idaho would be eligible. Alyson Heyrend, Communications Director for Rep. Matheson said this is for two main reasons: first, these western states have some of the fastest growing populations in the U.S. and therefore are more likely to be building schools. This would allow them to incorporate renewable energy projects into the front end of the building process, which is arguably more cost effective and efficient. Secondly, she says it’s a way to realistically and effectively stretch limited federal dollars for such causes. “Ultimately, you have to consider the situation facing the treasury. We’re just not rolling in money,” Heyrend said. “There’s an attempt to be cautious overall, and there probably isn’t a good one-size-fits-all solution.” A version of Rep. Matheson’s bill along with a version of Sen. Reid’s bill will have to be passed in their respective houses of Congress before the measure could be reconciled for a final vote. This effort will also have to compete with a flurry of energy legislation introduced this summer by other lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
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