On Saturday March 7, 2015, I spoke at a forum discussion hosted by the Repower Our Schools initiative at the Durham Main Public Library Auditorium in Durham, North Carolina. The Repower Our Schools campaign consists of parents, teachers and students asking school boards across NC to Repower Our Schools with 100% renewable energy. The Repower initiative in Durham Public Schools focuses specifically on switching to solar energy. Forum attendees were told to come ready with their pencils sharpened, have questions on deck and to gear up for an event to Re-think, Re-invest, and Repower!
The event began with a lot of energy thanks to moderator and host, Caroline Hansley, Triangle Field Organizer for Greenpeace and a supporter of Repower Our Schools. The room was filled with attendees of various ages: high school students, public school teachers, retired teachers, business owners, a county commissioner, Durham Board of Education members, and concerned citizens. Each panel member was asked to speak for 8 minutes about how repowering our schools with renewable energy can optimize energy dollars, improve community health or enhance students’ education.
Brian Callaway, Coordinator of Energy and Sustainability for Durham Public Schools was the first speaker: focusing on the financing of solar power for school systems. He laid the base knowledge for attendees on how financing solar power in public schools is different than financing solar power for corporate entities or households. He also made the clear distinction of how NC as a state is more advantageous or less advantageous in solar financing when it applies to local laws and tax breaks.
After Brian the group heard from Terry Landsdell, Manager at Medical Advocates for Healthy Air. Terry focused on the negative impacts to air quality from coal-fired power plants. He also made clear how improving air quality would benefit folks in the Triangle Region of NC: specifically children, because asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism.
Finally, I talked about how repowering our schools with renewable energy will provide educational benefits for students. I even brought along two ACE Action Fellows, Ian Feather from Cedar Ridge High School in Hillsborough, NC and Meridith Adams from Burke Middle College in Morganton, NC to give their perspective on the importance of the Repower our School’s Campaign.
Ian and Meridith invoked their own personal narratives in their speeches about why climate change is important to them and how it is impacting their generation. Ian spoke about how his parents taught him the importance of conservation which, paired with own experiences in nature, led him to work to protect planet Earth. Ian went on to talk about what kind of action we can take to fight climate change, specifically abandoning non-renewable energy sources. Lastly, Ian listed three things that we can accomplish if we power our schools with renewable energy: limit carbon emissions, save money or even make money when solar energy goes unused during breaks from school, and demonstrate to students the potential that green energy possesses for their future, saying: “We can show them that solar is not the energy source of the future, but rather the energy source of now”.
Meridith talked about what made her want to stand up and speak out for renewable energy, encouraging other young people to do the same. She also had a message for the adult decision-makers in the room: to listen and hear what the younger generation has to say, because they will be the ones that have to live with the consequences of the choices we make today. She also pointed out that money saved by using solar or other renewable energy could be used to boost teachers’ pay. Both Ian’s and Meridith’s speeches earned a roar of applause from the crowd at their conclusion.
The event was highly successful and had a great turnout. I look forward to ACE continuing to be a supporter of “Repower Our Schools” for both Durham and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Schools and seeing the progression of this campaign in Durham as the year moves forward! You can learn more about the campaign here. Also, if you want to support this work, make sure to sign the Repower our Schools petition!