GUEST POST: Helping Schools Reduce Energy Use Saves Money and Serves as a Teaching Tool

The HELiOS Project (part of KyotoUSA) and the National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA program have joined forces to provide a unique opportunity for school communities to reduce their carbon footprint and their impact on the environment while benefitting their schools and communities. Tom Kelly, a spokesman of the HELiOS Project, took some time to talk about it on Wildlife Promise.

Solar panel installation
Solar panel installation (flickr | OregonDOT)
The HELiOS Project (Helios Energy Lights Our Schools) was originally developed as a model for helping school districts build their own renewable energy systems to offset the cost of their electricity use. It has been adopted by a growing number of school districts in California.

About the HELiOS Project

KyotoUSA got its start in 2004 when a group of friends came together and acknowledged that climate change was the most important crisis facing the planet and that we all had a role to play in addressing it. We all worked hard over the next two years, focusing our efforts on getting local cities to formally adopt the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets that are part of the Kyoto Protocol. Our local efforts paid off in a big way when Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels took the idea to the US Conference of Mayors who enlisted over 1,000 cities and their mayors. This signified many cities, counties and states’ move toward meaningful action against climate change.

We recognize that meaningful change isn’t easy—it’s hard work. We have tried to think strategically  in looking for places where large amounts of energy and water are consumed and that when addressed would have other meaningful benefits. It did not take us long to realize that California’s (and by extension  America’s)  public schools were just the place to focus our attention.

Why Schools?

Schools consume significant amounts of energy and water at a cost that has a real impact on the quality of the education our children receive. In the last few years, as school budgets have been cut, districts have been looking much more closely at all their expenditures. Districts have discovered that there is a lot of energy wasted and that their schools can be excellent sources for producing local clean energy from the sun and wind. Enter the HELiOS Project, a way for school districts to build their own renewable energy systems to offset the cost of the electricity they use.

In 2006, KyotoUSA began advocating for the installation of renewable energy systems on Berkeley’s public schools. We identified several key benefits of addressing energy issues in our public schools:

  1. Reduce schools’ operating costs – fossil-fuel-generated electricity has been increasing in cost beyond its historic average, putting increasing pressure on the District’s operating budget. Reducing energy consumption and adding solar panels can help make a district more fiscally sound
  2. Reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced to make electricity –electricity from solar panels is virtually free of climate change-causing pollution and other toxic air contaminants
  3. Enhance science education – Adding solar panels is a great opportunity to introduce the science of renewable energy to its students, in keeping with Eco-Schools USA’s mission
  4. Demonstrate our commitment to our children’s future – there may be no greater threat to our children’s future than climate change. We must begin to invest in visible, effective actions that show our children that we are taking the threat seriously…and remaking the energy footprint of our kids’ schools is a great start.

See Top Ten Tips to Minimize Energy Use at the Eco-Schools USA website

While our focus tends to be the facilities in a given school district, we understand that improving energy efficiency and finding ways to produce on-site renewable energy can also serve as a great educational opportunity. In partnering with NWF’s Eco-Schools USA, we hope to inspire, and be inspired by, students nationwide who deserve to grow up in an environment that is healthy and sustainable.

Stay tuned for more on the partnership between the HELiOS Project and Eco-Schools USA on Wildlife Promise and read more about it here. While you’re at it, check out ten tips for schools to reduce energy use and fast facts on energy use on the Eco-Schools USA website.