Durham’s Initiative to “Repower our Schools” with Solar

I’ve often heard the advice “play to your strengths and manage your weaknesses”. We have a chance to do that here for NC public school students. We all know the weaknesses:
• Lack of funds results in our being 47th in teacher pay and 48th in per student spending
• Over 50,000 students miss school due to asthma resulting at least partially from air pollution
• Math and science classes often fail to connect to real world issues leaving students disengaged and confused
• High drop-out rates leave many youth ill prepared for the work force.

But here’s a surprising strength:
NC has abundant wind resources and ranks tenth in the nation in solar installations.

Renewable energy is the strength that could manage all of these weaknesses.
A coalition of NC groups is spearheading a campaign to “Repower Our Schools” with 100% renewable energy and Durham is one of two target cities for this initiative.

While most of our wind energy is located at the mountains and the coast we in the Piedmont have plenty of sun and if we play to our strength it is estimated we could save a million dollars over 30 years on school energy costs, freeing up those funds for teacher pay and classroom needs. We’d be improving air quality and student health by replacing dirty, unhealthy coal energy while providing an on-site resource for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum helping students see real applications of what they are learning and building a future work force of engaged, inspired learners. This project would also help further Durham’s goal of reducing its carbon footprint which we signed on to as part of the Cool Cities campaign.

We have a real choice. We can continue to spend increasing amounts every year for electricity for our schools generated by coal which causes devastation to the areas it is mined in through mountain top removal (blowing up mountains), devastation to our health by releasing mercury and other toxins into the air, and devastation to our water from coal ash spills. It keeps us subject to the choices of the largest corporate source of carbon pollution on the planet (Duke Energy) and at the mercy of their often unreliable grid. Or we can choose now to invest in a clean energy solution that will improve our air, our water, our health, our schools and ultimately our economy.

Repower Our Schools is a win- win- win for students, Durham and our planet. You can help make it a reality by attending the public meeting at the Main Library on March 7 from 10:30 a.m. – 12 noon. For more information see http://repowerourschools.com .

Betsy Bickel is a resident of Durham and interested in alternative energy issues.

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