Students To Reap Rewards of Solar Proposal

students-900Members of the GISS Environmental Club are working with the Community Energy Group on a solar power project and scholarship. (L-R back) Ella Maqueen Denz, Noal Balint, Maia Beauvais, Keenan Nowak, Kjell Liem, Amy Cousins (Teacher) and Jenna Aston (front).

BY ELIZABETH NOLAN –Gulf Islands Driftwood News Staff

Energy savings will be transformed to scholarship fund

The Gulf Islands School District has approved in principle a solar power project that has so many potential benefits it leaves the typical “win-win” scenario in the dust for a probable win-win-win-win-win.

David Denning and Kjell Liem of Transition Salt Spring’s Community Energy Group brought a proposal for installing solar panels on the high school gym to the school board’s regular meeting on Dec. 4 after first receiving approval in principle from district staff. They enjoyed an enthusiastic response from the board, including an unanimous motion of support.

“We’re excited about joining with you and getting a successful project,” district treasurer Rod Scotvold said after the presentation.

The plan that Liem designed as chair of the Community Energy Group includes community fundraising to cover the cost of the solar panels and photovoltaic arrays, which is expected to come in at $62,000, with a 30-year life span.

Similar projects have been instituted in a number of school districts across the province with help from SolarBC, including nearby Oak Bay High School and Shawnigan Lake School.

“The technology is so good that you just put it on the roof and it starts pumping money into the district,” Denning said.

Saving on energy bills is just the first step of the multi-pronged proposal, however. The group plans to install monitoring software so that the project can be incorporated into curriculum and to establish an electric vehicle charging station at the school. The school board has agreed to put most of the energy savings (aside from maintenance costs) back into a renewable energy scholarship fund. Creating an apprenticeship stream in renewable energy studies has also been proposed as a possible idea.

With all the significant “wins” to the project, the biggest one coordinators are hoping for is nothing less than saving the planet.

“Ultimately the goal is to reduce greenhouse gases . . . there is an urgency to do this that most people don’t recognize,” said Denning. “Any good scenario for the future of our students involves moving off fossil fuels.”

He stated there is five times as much fuel already identified in reserves than the world can safely afford to burn before global temperatures reach the two-degree tipping point. But instead of weaning ourselves off carbon, more fossil fuels are being burned than ever before. The high school project will therefore add to the solution in its own right, and potentially inspire community action as a shining example of what can be accomplished.

“Communities actually have to take a stance [and] do it themselves, because governments are obviously way off track,” said Galiano Island trustee Bonnie MacGillivray.

“If we can do this, every child on Salt Spring will benefit,” Denning said. “This is all about making a better future for the kids, which is what we are trying to accomplish.”

With support from the school district now in place, the next steps will be getting electrical and structural surveys done. The group will then create a more detailed proposal with a systems plan, financial plan and critical path to the board before launching a fundraising campaign.