Inner West students leading the solar charge for schools. Photo: pexels.com

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BY MICHAEL HITCH

 

Solar powered schools could soon be the norm in the inner west as the Inner West Council works with student leaders to help local schools maximise their use of renewable energy. The Sydney Student Leaders Coalition (SSLC) aims to deliver solar energy panels to schools across the area and the initiative has gained support from Inner West Council Mayor Darcy Byrne.

Cr Byrne said that he was pleased to see young people working to make changes within the community and said he was eager to begin collaboration with the SSLC to organise the solar campaign. “I think it’s exciting to see young people taking initiative in proposing changes that they want to see within their schools and in the local community,” he said.

“Within their organisation there are now representatives from almost every high school in the inner west area and beyond, so it’s important for us to support that activity and to work in collaboration with them.” Cr Byrne noted that solar panelling for schools would benefit the community by strengthening schools’ economic value and improving the surrounding environment.

“I think it’s common-sense that our school buildings should have solar panelling installed, solar is a better alternative simply based on economics as opposed to non-renewable energy sources,” he said.

Cr Byrne said he wanted to send a positive message to kids about the usefulness and imperative of making use of solar energy, and that having solar powered schools would do that in a very visible and practical way. “Schools also have a lot of rooftop space, these are some of the largest buildings in the inner west, so there’s the potential for this to actually make a return for the school communities and to put new energy back into the grid.”

The SSLC is a coalition of high school students who advocate for necessary change in their schools and communities. A representative from the organisation said the group decided to launch the solar schools campaign in order to deliver significant economic and environmental benefits to the inner west.

The SSLC intends to help switch local schools to solar by using the Department of Education’s tendering program, which provides half of the funds for a network of solar panels while the school raises the other half.

The Department of Education also provides information regarding the size and type of system each individual school requires, allowing schools to prepare a budget and fundraise if necessary. Caringbah High School in Sydney’s south is one school identified as having already raised the required portion of funds to install solar panels under the program.

SSLC member, Harvey Hayes said that the economic and environmental benefits of the campaign could be seen from the results of Caringbah high school’s decision to switch to solar.

“For Caringbah High School after they installed solar panels, they managed to save $15, 000 a year roughly, and those savings went to social benefits for the school, getting extra equipment for the school etcetera,” she said. “Of course, 177 tonnes of carbon emissions were also saved as well, which is such an important action for helping the environment.

“We want our schools to be helping with the climate crisis and it seems like an obvious step to help other schools within our own organisation and our own area, to install their own solar panels.”

Ms Hayes said that the tendering program’s requirement for schools to raise 50 per cent of funds would inspire community engagement. “I think it’s actually fantastic because it really encourages communities to get involved, it just means that the other 50 percent can be provided by P&C [Parents and Citizens] or by the infrastructure school funds,” she said.

“It also provides great opportunities for communities to come together through fundraising and really to educate the students, parents and teachers on solar panels in particular.”

The ‘Solar my School’ program is considered one of the front-running solar program models being considered by Inner West Council, having already been implemented successfully by schools in the eastern and southern suburbs. A representative from the council added that staff were still in the process of assessing the economic and environmental outcomes of various solar program models, which would be compared in a forthcoming report.

“This will be reported back to Council in late October to inform a decision on the best options for supporting schools,” they said. Cr Byrne said that Council would need to step up and help to provide the organisation and infrastructure necessary to help shift inner west schools to solar energy.

“The Inner West Council needs to provide full coordination and brokerage of the program,” he said.

“It’s one thing to say ‘these funds can become available’, but actually coordinating the process of getting kids to propose it through their P&C groups, helping school communities to raise their contribution and the logistics of actually having the panels installed… all of that will require organisation that Council will have to take on.”