Repower Our Schools, a Greenpeace coalition, presented a report last week from the North Carolina Energy Technology Center (ETC), of North Carolina State University, that shows the savings and practicality over 25 years of using 100 percent solar energy in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.
“We’re excited because this report essentially shows that not only is that possible, but you can save millions of dollars in the process,” said Michael Zytkow, Greenpeace North Carolina field organizer.
Repower Our Schools is a state-wide initiative focused in Charlotte and Durham, in which community members encourage school districts to use 100 percent renewable resources for their electricity. They work to alleviate pollution from nonrenewable energy sources in the community, as well as change legislative boundaries related to solar energy.
The coalition has discussed its initiative with school board members and they encouraged Repower of Schools to find quantifiable evidence that solar energy is a practical and economical choice.
“Renewable energy is really not sexy,” Terry Lansdell, program director of Clean Air Carolina, said. “We’ve taken for granted a generation of choice that relied on coal and fossil fuels. You flicked the light switch and the light came on. We have to make that generational change now to solar because we understand the burdens of that fossil fuel generation.”
Lansdell added people often hear misinformation about solar energy’s potential and the reusability of solar panels. He said technology of solar energy has developed over the years and people don’t realize its capabilities.
“The solar generation has an opportunity to contribute to the stability of the electricity grid because it provides electricity at peak times, so that we don’t have to engage coal plants at peak times,” Lansdell said.
The ETC report determined the school district would save $42.1 million over 25 years and $54.6 million over 25 years if CMS worked to make third-party energy sales legal in North Carolina. CMS could engage in a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a third-party owner of a solar-power system, in which the school purchases solar electricity from the third-party owners, but PPAs are prohibited in North Carolina.
“During this process, what we’re trying to do is get CMS to make a commitment to power the school system with 100 percent renewable energy,” Zytkow said, who is a CMS graduate. “Not only do we save millions of dollars in the process, but we also have to think about the other things in the process that you might not necessarily be able to quantify, such as the clean air and water in our community, the fact that our students have more learning opportunities – STEM experiences in the classroom – and that there are future job opportunities.”
Kathryn Whitfield, a parent of a CMS kindergartener and first-grader, said renewable energy is important to her children’s future, particularly the long-term effects of pollution from nonrenewable resources on the environment.
Whitfield hopes the use of solar energy can be a learning opportunity for students, as well as attract more teachers to the area who wish to teach about renewable energy.
“How can we tell our kids that we care about and invest in their future if we don’t act on the opportunity to enrich it?” she said. “It’s getting to the point where it’s getting late and it’s getting critical, so we need action now and we need action as soon as possible … we have to think about our children’s futures. It would be selfish not to think about our children’s futures.”
DeAndrea Salvador, the founder and executive director of Renewable Energy Transitions Initiative, said she works to display the educational opportunities CMS can gain from implementing solar energy. She envisions students engaging in hands-on experiments and labs through those energy resources.
“With a hands-on, real-life approach, it does make our students more competitive in the STEM realm,” she said. “Charlotte truly is an energy hub … and they’re reporting that within the next 10 years that about 50 percent of the solar industry will be retiring and who better to fill those shoes than our students?”
Many critics cite the large upfront cost associated with solar energy as a deterrent, but Lansdell said solar energy costs continue to decrease and legislative actions can continue to alleviate costs.
“If policies change at the state level, we can reduce that initial upfront cost (but) even now, CMS can save a tremendous amount of money,” Zytkow said. “Consider long term, consider the fact that fossil fuel prices are going to continue to increase year after year and this is a way for us to get stable electrical prices for the foreseeable future.”
Visit repowerourschools.com for more information about the initiative.