As Vermont kids get ready for the start of the school year, some may notice changes in or around their school buildings — aimed at slowing climate change.
In Winooski, the largest net-metering solar system allowable in Vermont now sits on the roof of the city’s new school expansion and renovation. Funded by SunWealth, an investor in clean energy projects, the school district said the new solar array is expected to cover almost all future electric costs — $115,000 or so a year.
Geothermic heating and cooling and efficient ventilation were also central to construction, according to the district.
"Environmental stewardship is a clear priority for Winooski students as they learn how their actions can make a difference," a Winooski School District spokesperson said in a written statement. "Recently, elementary students have written essays to lawmakers advocating for stronger measures to reduce pollution, middle school students raised awareness about food waste at school, and high school students partnered with a local farm to learn about sustainable agricultural practices. Our students are proud that their school building reflects their commitment to an Earth-friendly future."
Behind Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, an off-grid solar system now lights the greenhouse where students grow vegetables for the cafeteria. Funded by a private donor, it also powers tools key to the school’s sustainability curriculum.
"When we’re trying to talk about climate and natural resources, it’s hard to talk about solar and the importance of that kind of fitting in to what our energy needs are going to need to be in the future without actually having any on campus," Dave Trevithick, a science teacher and CVU’s sustainability coordinator, told NECN & NBC10 Boston.
The just-authorized hundreds of billions of federal dollars to combat climate change, part of the package dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, are aimed at putting various forms of investments in climate change action within reach for towns, individuals, and businesses alike, the White House has said.
"We’ve got to not just sell it on virtue," Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, said of making decisions such as purchasing an electric vehicle. "It’s got to be affordable for everyday Vermonters."
Welch predicted you’ll be seeing a lot more electric vehicle charging stations at public buildings, for example.
In South Burlington, environmental grants helped four new electric school buses roll into the fleet this year, making for emissions-free rides to class, the district announced.
The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation provided a $965,000 grant, paid for through funds from the settlement with Volkswagen from its diesel vehicle cheating scandal. Additionally, $55,000 in incentives from Green Mountain Power helped facilitate the bus upgrades, the utility announced.
"We are excited to be able to offer our students the opportunity to ride on emissions-free transportation for the first time in our District’s history, ” South Burlington communications coordinator Corey Burdick said in a news release about the new buses. "This initiative furthers the district’s goals around climate change mitigation and is in alignment with the ways we have been partnering with the city on renewable energy. We are grateful to our local partners who helped make this a reality and can’t wait to see our students’ reactions on the first day of school!"
Additionally, Green Mountain Solar, the firm behind the off-grid solar system at Champlain Valley Union High School, said increased visibility from these projects and others will be important as America accelerates its move away from fossil fuels.
"I think more and more, if we can provide this to the kids and show them how it works, and why it’s a value, even here in Vermont, the better our future will be," said Paul Lesure of Green Mountain Solar, referring to environmental projects in school settings.
Many other Vermont school districts have taken steps in recent years to address climate change, such as embracing composting in the cafeteria, improving school insulation, or installing heat pumps.