Clark Middle School students demand solar panels | City News

Students on Clark Middle School’s Science Adventure Energy Team (SEAT) say they want the Clark County School District to install solar panels at the new middle school scheduled to be completed by fall 2024.

Teacher Audrey Hughes brought a SEAT bench to Clarke Middle to encourage students to learn about energy and resource conservation. SEAT is one of several teams created under the National Energy Education Development (NEED) project, which trains teachers and students in their own energy conservation approaches so they can create environmental education teams in their schools.

This year, SEAT is interested in more than just educating their peers about energy conservation. They want the upcoming new middle school to have solar panels, a goal they say benefits the school as well as the environment.

According to SEAT members, such committees would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and free up CCSD funds for other projects. Climate change is happening faster than people think, said Brody Kidd, an eighth grade seat member.

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, August 2023 was the hottest August on record. The US Geological Survey says drought and increased storm intensity are likely the result of climate change.

“The idea that climate issues are not an immediate problem is outdated,” said Sasha Barkan, an eighth grade member at SEAT.

Once expensive, the cost of installing solar panels has now become affordable for schools due to increased funding opportunities. In 2022, the Biden administration passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which incentivizes schools to invest in renewable energy infrastructure. Through it, the government pays directly to developers of renewable energy projects, such as schools, so they do not have to wait for tax breaks.

According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, investing in solar energy can free up money for schools to invest in other areas, such as hiring teachers, purchasing supplies and building facilities.

SEAT eighth-grade member Aro Callahan believes it will be easier for the school to add solar panels during the construction process, rather than waiting until later.

However, these changes are not enough yet for CCSD to consider installing solar panels at the middle school, according to John Gilbreth, CCSD director of facilities planning and construction. As a custodian of SPLOST, the Special Local Options Sales Tax, a 1% sales tax can go toward school infrastructure, among other things. This funds the new middle school.

According to Gilbreth, it doesn’t make economic sense for CCSD to install solar panels while solar technology is still developing. He believes this is something that could be considered in the future after other areas test the technology further.

In the meantime, the school might consider using solar panels on a smaller scale for mostly educational purposes near an agricultural area, Gilbreth said. In addition, the new middle school will have a building automation system that controls heating, air and lighting; LED lights low flow water fixtures; Paint on windows to prevent excess heat and runoff retention ponds. Although CCSD is not Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified due to the cost of certification, Gilbreth said CCSD tries to take its requirements into account.

Hughes agrees that small efforts can make a difference. She teaches her students to turn off the lights, review their family’s electricity use, and set the thermostat to a low level. However, while she acknowledges the conservation efforts the school district has already undertaken, she sees the new middle school as an opportunity for more large-scale sustainability efforts.

In the meantime, SEAT will continue its work. Hughes says students will learn how to conduct energy audits at the new school to measure energy efficiency. Last spring, SEAT members taught elementary school students how to conserve energy, and presented their case for solar panels at the September 2023 CCSD Board of Education meeting.

Barkan says joining SEAT made her more aware of ways to save energy, while Kidd says SEAT made him more aware of the small ways people can help the environment.

“I think it makes us more aware to make better, healthier decisions,” Hughes said. “Decisions that are healthier for you and the planet in the future.”

(Tags for translation)uga

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