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Commentary: Utah schools should move to 100% renewable energy

Student coalition wants school districts to make schools, and the world, a safer place.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) New solar panels on the roof of the Sorenson Multicultural Center, on California Ave, on Thursday, July 2, 2020.

Utah is facing threats from a changing climate, which endangers the lives of every community and directly threatens the future of youth. That’s why a student coalition from across Utah is working to transition school districts to 100% clean energy to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and protect the health of future generations.

The students call on school districts to commit to achieving 100% clean, renewable electricity by 2030 and fully phase out all fossil fuels by 2040 by electrifying heating and cooling systems, cooking and transportation.

Districts across the country have made similar commitments, including public school districts in Los Angeles, Seattle, Green Bay and more. Last year, students from high schools in Salt Lake City School District, with support from outside organizations, worked to collect 800 petition signatures to support moving SLCSD to a commitment to clean energy. Their hard work paid off. The Salt Lake City Board of Education passed a 100% clean energy resolution and is working to develop an implementation plan.

As student activists, we are working to build on this momentum in Davis, Granite and Park City school districts. Committing our schools to 100% clean energy offers many benefits, including money savings on energy bills, air quality improvements through energy efficiency measures, and increased opportunities to improve STEM learning.

Transitioning to clean energy will help combat air pollution, impacting student health and learning, especially in Salt Lake County and Davis County. Indoor air pollution can be much worse than outdoor air pollution and contributes to fatigue and impaired concentration in students and staff.

Studies show that air pollution increases school absence rates, lowers student achievement, worsens lung conditions such as asthma and is proven to disproportionately impact students of color. Student achievement has shown to be compromised by health effects from poor ventilation, uncomfortable temperatures, inadequate lighting, mold and noise. Clean energy solutions — such as efficiency and heating and cooling upgrades — can address these challenges by creating significantly better conditions for student health and learning.

It’s important to note that around 12% of students in Granite District live at or below the poverty level, along with 5.6% of students in Davis School District and 5.94% of students in Park City District. As we discuss passing a clean energy resolution, we must ensure the benefits from 100% clean energy; specifically, the money saved, are accessible to all students and equitably distributed.

Another benefit of transitioning schools to clean energy is enhanced community resilience. School buildings — a source of emergency shelter during disasters — can be equipped with solar and battery storage to create resilient and independent microgrids, ensuring displaced community members can access heat and light when grid power fails.

Due to their rigidity, gas lines are prone to be dislodged from connection points and possibly result in a fire or explosion following seismic activity. Equipping schools in the Wasatch Front with solar and battery storage could help avoid potential grid outages caused by a major earthquake.

Collectively, these resolutions have the potential to ensure over 140,000 students in Utah will be able to learn in buildings completely powered by renewable energy. We ask for your support to ensure a more sustainable and healthy future by implementing renewable energy.

To help the Granite, Davis, and Park City School Districts secure a commitment to 100% clean energy, you can ask your school board to vote yes in making a district-wide commitment to 100% clean energy. Let’s not be short-sighted and think of only tomorrow; this is a long-term investment intended to recoup benefits with time.

Nina Serafin

Nina Serafin represents the Park City School District,

Aarushi Verma

Aarushi Verma represents the Granite School District,

Muskan Walia

Muskan Walia represents the Davis School District

on the Student Coalition for 100% Clean Energy School Districts.

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