In wake of new climate report, solar schools one important step

By Emma Pabst
Environment Texas Associate

My testimony before the Austin ISD Board of Trustees:

Good evening everyone. My name is Emma Pabst and I’m with Environment Texas. First, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Trustee Anderson and Trustee Ashy. It’s exciting to see some new faces on the board, and I’m looking forward to working with both of you for months to come.

Second, in the spirit of thanksgiving, I’d like to humbly add one more thing to each of your plates. As my fellow advocates have pointed out, our district is facing some tough choices when it comes to budgeting. At a time like this, where it sometimes seems like a contest between smaller class sizes and paying our teachers a living wage, it’s more important than ever to think outside the box, and find places to save where we hadn’t looked before. And tonight, I’d like to encourage you to do that by taking a good hard look at our energy costs.

At 14 of our 130 schools, we’ve installed roof-top solar arrays that will save the district approximately $5.5 million in energy costs over the next 20 years. And yet, our solar program has slowed to a halt. We have $6.2 million leftover from 2013 bond money earmarked for solar, just waiting to be spent.

And, as a US government report on climate change warned last Friday, we don’t have time to wait. For every ton of carbon pollution we release into the atmosphere, we increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires, hurricanes, and droughts. But this issue is so much more than environmental - it’s common sense finance. That’s why we’re calling on Austin ISD to install solar on every school in the district by 2025, and we’ve drafted a resolution that says exactly that.

If we could put just 400 kWs of solar on every school, we could save the district more than $5 million in energy costs annually. Between the 2013 bond money, leasing agreements, incentives from Austin Energy, and future bond packages, Austin ISD has numerous opportunities to cover the upfront cost of solar projects.

Over the past three months, we’ve collected over 800 petition signatures, and signed more than 25 environmental groups, PTAs, and other community leaders onto a letter in support of district-wide solar. We’ve drafted a resolution to accomplish this goal, and would love the board’s support on it. Thank you.