The opinion section of the Wisconsin State Journal dated Sunday, April 20th was "Wisconsin needs ambitious clean energy goal." I generally agree with the theme and believe that green energy is a way for us to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and is a wise investment in our future. I also believe Wisconsin's goal should be more than just a percentage of our energy use in the state. Our goal should include our schools and students - we need to make everyone good consumers and decision makers with respect to energy. (FYI -- I don't want to enter a comment nightmare about political views, I just want to discuss simple economics of green energy and the power of students with legislature assistance.)
The school where I teach has been using Green Energy to help my students learn the skills that the world and workplace require (project management, problem solving, analysis, justification, etc). We have avoided entering the climate change debate because people tune out, we have simply studied whether green energy makes good financial sense. They discovered that generating our own electricity at our school with securing some small grants and donations simply made sense. Using solar and wind versus carbon based products in the long term simply means a long term reduced cost to operate the school in our district. Once the panels are paid for, the energy just keeps coming, it is simply a method to pre-purchase power. It is proactive and can create powerful learning experiences for students.
The Wisconsin legislature should be pushing ways to help schools met ambitious goals for producing their own power, using students to lead the projects and find ways their schools can do the work and reduce their long term costs. Students are an untapped resource in every district - their drive can make amazing things happen (video about using Real Problems, Real Projects and Real Solutions).
Students can get the project going - can analyze if a 15 year payback, with an ROI over 5% is a "good" project - then tell the boss (the board). Each school in the state should have students working on this and presenting to their school boards. We know school buildings will not disappear over the next decade - the costs to operate a school is one of the few places where reducing the cost does not effect students!
Now I (and my class) agree that some grants are needed, the cost of solar straight up puts paybacks into the 20 plus year range. But that is where the legislature can help, channeling grants through Focus On Energy for student led projects could be a boon for our education system from the stand point of learning and reducing our school distirct's operating costs. Currently nearly all the money spent on electricity goes out of state - and yet the sun gives enough energy every hour to power the world for an entire year - so we can easily power 10% of our school's consumption!
My class has found people who want to make green energy about climate change, about the Middle East, about amount of government, etc -- some people want to make this a political discussion and that leads to all kinds of arguments. We stick to the idea that it is really just good sense to reduce your long term repeating costs. And energy, like everything else, gets more expensive with time. Pre-buying power can be a win for the schools, the state and its taxpayers and most importantly the students! I urge the State Journal to bring this to fore front with their editorial board and I urge our legislature to find a way to help fund schools so that all districts can generate 10% of their power. And while education funding is complicated and hard, this type of initiative is a one time funding thing and the state is in the right place to do it now. Action can lead to results.
Cause every kilowatt, every dollar counts -- waiting is giving away power and savings -- but more importantly students building and leading is too positive an outcome not to invest in immediately.