Guest post by Elizabeth Doerr and Cheryl Burke—school board members for Richmond Public Schools.
As mothers and school board members for Richmond Public schools (RPS), the welfare of children and our community is always on our minds. Every day we are working to maintain a climate in our schools that keeps our children safe and provides the resources they need to thrive in the future. Outside of our school buildings, we are facing a climate crisis that is threatening our global climate and our ability to provide our children the resources they need to thrive in the future.
We have a tremendous opportunity right now in Virginia to tackle climate change in a meaningful way. The Virginia Clean Economy Act is a comprehensive energy bill being presently considered by the General Assembly. This bill lays out a clear plan with enforceable benchmarks to get Virginia to a 100% clean energy standard by 2050. We are calling on you take action by speaking up for this landmark legislation that can help all of us, especially our youth, secure a brighter, healthier future. Together, we can achieve the bold vision of 100% clean energy that has already been outlined by Governor Northam.
How Solar Is Benefitting Richmond
Our school community has gained so much by joining in this transition to a carbon-neutral future. RPS currently has bragging rights to the biggest solar installation on a school district in Virginia. With nearly 3 megawatts of solar installed on ten school rooftops, our impact is equivalent to the carbon emissions of 496 homes’ electricity use each year.
Going solar not only helped our district be better stewards of the planet, but also of the community’s tax dollars. Through a power purchase agreement with Secure Futures Solar, the solar project had no upfront cost to the district. In fact, we will be saving $2 million in electricity costs over the next 20 years. This project also came with a supporting grant from the Community Foundation of Richmond that enabled us to purchase additional energy monitoring devices and to fund a Sustainability Coordinator to work full time with RPS staff on going green.
A group of motivated elementary students and teachers came to the school board with a request to go solar on their schools. We are extremely proud that we found a way to say yes to them. Our solar panels signal to our students that we are looking out for their futures both inside and outside of the classroom. The technology is now being utilized by students at all different levels.
All eighth grade science teachers throughout the district received a professional development training and materials to help them incorporate solar energy lessons in the classroom. One high school class used the real-time data generated on the rooftops to participate in a collaborative research project with the Science Museum of Richmond, Secure Futures Solar, and students from Augusta County.
Expanding Access to the Rest of Virginia
Many other districts are ‘seeing the light’ and catching on to how solar can benefit their schools. According to nonprofit Generation180, the number of K-12 schools in Virginia that have gone solar has tripled since 2017. Other school districts are making plans to go solar and reap the same financial and education benefits we have received. However, their plans are now on hold due to utility roadblocks that can only be removed with new legislation passed by the General Assembly.
The Virginia Clean Economy Act (SB 851/HB 1526) would not only remove those barriers to solar, but it will create numerous benefits for all Virginians. The bill’s plan for moving us to 100% clean energy will spur economic growth, create thousands of in-state jobs, reduce electric bills with energy efficiency, and mitigate the impacts of climate change that we are already facing now.
We hope you will all join us now in contacting your state legislators to ask for their support of the Virginia Clean Economy Act. This is our last chance to speak up before the General Assembly session ends on March 7.
Our children and future generations are counting on us.
Use Generation180’s tool to contact your legislator and voice your support for this crucial clean energy policy.
Primary blog photo credit: Secure Futures, LLC