In other words, the project is not just about renewables and reducing carbon pollution, it’s about resilience. If a windstorm, snowstorm, earthquake, or other emergency disrupts power to the city, residents will be able to congregate in Miller to stay warm or cool, power their devices, and share. the resources. As extreme weather events intensify, it becomes more and more urgent to prepare for the unexpected.
What if every public school building in Seattle could play this role?
This is one of the goals of a campaign that brings together students, teachers, parents and activists who believe the school system must be part of the solution to the climate crisis. They are pushing the Seattle school board to take action this fall to include funding for “solar schools” in the upcoming Seattle school tax renewal, which will appear on the ballot in February.
The roots of the effort lie in the 2019 campaign for a Seattle Green New Deal. He called for transformative climate action, not only of the city itself, but of all the major institutions operating there. This fall saw massive climate strikes led by young people across the world, including here in Seattle. Organizers channeled that momentum through 2020 and carried it through all of this year’s tumultuous events, from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic disruption it has caused to the uprisings for the racial justice following the murder of George Floyd.
The campaign also builds on the Clean Schools resolution passed by the Seattle School Board in February, which commits the district to be fossil fuel-free by 2040. School board members Lisa Rivera-Smith and Zachary DeWolf have defended the resolution. Working with a group called Climate Parents, which is now part of the Sierra Club, they began meeting with Seattle public school staff and community stakeholders in early 2020 and spent 10 months developing the language. In addition to eliminating carbon emissions, the resolution aims to build the resilience of communities to climate disasters, create classroom learning opportunities and ultimately save money by switching to renewable energy.
Achieving these goals will require electrifying the fleet of buses and other vehicles and switching from gas to electricity for all heating and cooking. The resolution also commits to producing zero-carbon electricity by 2027 through a “combined use of Seattle City Light power and renewable energy sources installed on neighborhood properties” – like solar panels.
“Climate pollution from buildings is the fastest growing source of climate pollution in our city,” says Jess Wallach, organizer of Climate Justice Group 350 Seattle. Schools, she says, can lead by example.
Fast forward to this summer. Volunteers from 350 Seattle, who had organized with teachers over the past year, had an idea. “The Solar Schools Campaign grew out of the recognition that this year’s school tax was a truly exciting opportunity to continue to move the Seattle School District forward on climate action and climate resilience,” Wallach said.
Now, the campaign is calling on the school board to fully fund the implementation of the Clean Schools resolution and immediately commit to installing solar installations on every public school roof. Six schools already have solar panels, but more than a hundred others do not.
Installing these systems would create good green jobs, in addition to boosting renewable energy production and building the resilience of communities in city neighborhoods. And those jobs could go to former students. Seattle Public Schools have a community workforce agreement ensuring that construction trades jobs involving the district will prioritize students and their families.
The campaign also enjoys the support of unions. Just last night, MLK Labor, the King County central labor organization, which counts the Seattle Education Association as one of its affiliated unions, voted to promote solar schools.
Despite broad support and no organized opposition, success is not assured. Renewable energy may ultimately lead to cost savings, but the price to pay for the transition is high – $ 1.3 billion to meet all of the Clean Schools Resolution goals, according to Rivera-Smith. And she is not convinced that solar panels should be a first step.
“The first priority for SPS should, I believe, be the electrification of all buildings and modernization for more efficiency,” she said. “Because City Light, which we use, is already carbon-free, on-site solar production does little or nothing to reduce our emissions. Our first move should be to get rid of natural gas boilers and electrify our transportation. “
The school board is in the process of developing collection priorities. Rivera-Smith said discussions so far include a proposal to set aside $ 1 million for clean energy projects, gender-neutral bathrooms and ADA accessibility improvements. Seattle Public Schools are recruiting for a task force that will develop a plan to implement the Clean Schools Resolution; some of these funds could begin to implement the recommendations of this body.
But even though the entire million dollars was spent on clean energy projects, it’s a drop in the ocean. It is not enough to solarize a single school or to make a noticeable dent in one of the main goals of the Clean School Resolution. Without cutting off other projects that depend on the levy, therefore, serious climate action depends on increasing the size of the package. Given that the latest levy passed with around 70% support in 2019, it seems there is ample room for a larger measure, especially if voters know it is about fighting. the climate crisis. But does the Seattle school board have the political will?
It remains to be seen. Virtual public hearings on the tax are scheduled for September 21 and 23. The board will finalize and vote on the wording for the tax later this fall, in time for it to appear on our February 2022 ballots.
Will solar schools be included in the funding program? Wallach says it will take a lot of public pressure to persuade the board to make this pledge.
“The real enemy here is the status quo,” she said.