Vail Valley Voices: Bill offers chance for schools to go green | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley Voices: Bill offers chance for schools to go green

Christine Scanlan
Vail, CO, Colorado
newsroom@vaildaily.com

Growing energy costs and tightening budgets have left schools in a tough spot.

Utility costs are second only to teacher salaries as the most expensive budget item for many school districts across the state. Colorado’s schools have more than 140 million square feet that need heating, cooling and light. With energy rates fluctuating, we don’t want schools to choose between keeping the lights on and cutting their budgets.

In response, state Rep. Andy Kerr, state Sen. Gail Schwartz and state Treasurer Cary Kennedy have created one of the most innovative pieces of legislation this year.

House Bill 1312 creates the Renewables for Schools program to provide schools access to affordable, clean-energy technologies. A low-interest loan program will fund renewable-energy projects such as wind and solar and battery-powered or hybrid-electric bus projects.

Unfortunately, many schools can’t afford the up-front capital to finance renewable-energy projects. Providing schools low-interest loans will help eliminate this fundamental barrier and put more money back into their classrooms.

By producing energy on-site, schools can reduce their utility bills, create a buffer against future energy-price spikes and put more money toward educating kids. Schools can use the funding to install solar panels on the roof or a small wind turbine next to the soccer field or convert diesel-powered school buses to battery or hybrid-electric power.

The program also provides for a great learning opportunity: Installing renewable-energy technologies provides hands-on teaching opportunities for Colorado’s kids about the many prospects that exist in green-collar jobs such as research, development and production of clean-energy technologies. Our kids will play a critical role in the state toward building a vibrant new energy economy.

To qualify, school districts will have to meet criteria that are at once rigorous while also allowing older schools in poorer districts the opportunity to qualify. Schools must demonstrate that they have met or exceeded the federal energy-star label. Older schools may qualify by committing to an efficiency plan that targets concrete energy-savings measures. The Treasurer’s Office will work with the governor’s energy office to determine who qualifies.

I look forward to seeing kids driven to school in 21st-century schoolbuses powered by hybrid electricity and then having them learn 21st-century job skills in buildings energized by 21st-century solar, wind and geothermal technologies. We can use these projects to kick-start our economy, energize education and power our buildings and buses.

The Renewable for Schools program creates a win-win-win situation. It’s a win for taxpayers and schools that will save money on energy costs, providing more funds for the classroom. It’s a win for the state, which will see a good investment return on its dollars loaned to schools. And it’s a win for the economy as we create new green jobs across the state.

State Rep. Christine Scanlan, of Dillon, represents Eagle County in the state House.