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Students add to momentum for solar power

By Kendall Atkinson

Over the past year, the march to get solar power panels installed in the Alameda Unified School District has continued to gain more traction. The proposal is said to cut back millions in power bills and improve the environment, according to those behind this idea.

There is a push for this vote to pass quickly, and it is not because of a “sooner, the better” mentality.  Twelve  AUSD schools are set to have new roofing, making it the perfect time to install solar panels, according to supporters of the plan.

Those who are not behind this project say that there are not the funds to implement such a project as solar into the schools at this time and trying to install solar this summer during the re roofing would be too rushed as it can take up six months to be approved.

Bay Farm Elementary teacher Michele Kuttner and Alameda Solar Schools campaign leader Debi Ryan have been reaching out to Alameda High School students to spread the word about the solar campaign. Seniors Ariel Moyal, Julian Pelzner and Niki Jew, three of those who Kuttner and Ryan reached out to, became avid proponents of this project. The students sent around a petition at Alameda High at the beginning of the school year and helped convince the Alameda School Board to unanimously vote yes to install solar panels in the schools.

Now the campaign is facing a hurdle with Alameda Municipal Power. “Our short term goal right now is to get Alameda Municipal Power board to continue net metering,” says Jew.

Alameda Municipal Power, or AMP, loses money with net metering. Net metering is a system where renewable energy generators are connected to multiple facilities through a power grid. AMP loses money with net metering because building owners only pay for power that is not generated on site. AMP would no longer need to send nearly the amount of power, if any, to AUSD schools if solar was implemented which would drastically cut their revenue as AUSD schools are the biggest power eaters in Alameda.

With the current net-energy metering program, independent generators, like Alameda schools, are able to receive financial credit for the electricity generated if they have solar panel systems, but the program is quickly running out. The current net metering program has less than 1.5 megawatts (MW) available for use. The campaign is asking for 3 MW of solar for AUSD. “If net metering is stopped, then it won’t be feasible or affordable for Alameda schools to get solar power,” says Jew.

AMP held a meeting at city hall on March 16. The room was filled with supporters, including students, parents and teachers of AUSD. Alameda High’s own seniors  Moyal,  Pelzner and junior Daisy Stock joined in speaking up for the solar campaign. Stepping up to the podium, each student focused on the importance of the campaign.

Solar panels will “keep this city moving forward,”  Moyal said. “We can take pride in a city that actually moves forward instead of talking about it,” Moyal said. Drawing this conclusion from student involvement, signatures on the petition and attendance at the meeting, she added that it is “clear the students want this.”

Students have had previous work with solar panels at AHS. At the March 16 meeting,  Stock told  an anecdote  about her AP Environmental Science using half functional solar panels to power a fountain. She said that installing the solar panels will be “building green foundations for generations to come.”

Pelzner delved into the mathematical and environmental aspect of the possible installation, telling  the council of the benefits this may bring: AHS would produce its own energy improving efficiency. About five to seven percent of energy is lost in transferring energy. Allowing AHS to create their own energy through solar panels would eliminate this loss, Pelzner said.

The energy AUSD currently uses is comprised of landfill gases, whereas solar panels would produce clean energy. This would also lessen the strain on AMP during peak hours, he said.

AHS students were not the only students who came to show their support. One sixth grader from NEA, Dakota Harrison, spoke on behalf of his school to show their support. He questioned why Oakland schools attained solar panels and Alameda schools have not. Installing solar panels in AUSD “only makes sense,” he said.

Ryan, a parent in Alameda and leader of the Alameda Solar Schools campaign, approached the council as well. Ryan cited the petition for solar panels with over 300 names signed and 600 people registered on the campaign site. Schools in Alameda are the largest energy user in town, Ryan said. Solar panels “work financially, it works educationally, it works environmentally.”

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The Oak Leaf, a product of the journalism class, is a vehicle of student expression and a public forum for the Alameda High School community.