19 May 2011: The Toronto District School Board announced a plan to put solar panels on 450 of its 558 schools – over 1 million square metres of roof space – and use the panels to generate the revenue needed to fund the $3 billion needed to repair those same roofs. Regardless of the narrow-minded nay-sayers, this is a great idea.
This idea works because of substantive subsidies offered to individuals and organizations who develop sustainable energy sources on their property. One installs a solar panel, and literally sells the energy back to the grid. One then buys the power one needs from the grid. The trick is that one can get between 8 and 10 times more money from the sale of green power than one spends to buy energy back.
School roofs are ideal places for solar panels. Schools are not tall buildings, making installation and maintenance simpler and cheaper. Their roofs are also generally flat, which makes them perfect locations for installing solar panels. And there’s a lot of them.
There’s an added benefit here, because the revenue generated by the solar panels will help pay for major restoration needed on the roofs themselves. Currently, 61 schools have “tarped roofs” because funding for repairs has not been forthcoming.
(I don’t know what’s more shameful: that 61 schools have roofs that are falling apart, or that the Government has forced the Board to seek this kind of solution because it is unwilling to provide the necessary funds through normal channels.)
An added benefit that I’ve not seen written about elsewhere is that the solar panels will shade the schools from hot summer sun. While the schools all have heating systems, many are not air conditioned. These schools can become saunas in May/June, and September/October. I’ve seen my own kids look like wilted lettuce when they come home from school. The solar panels will prevent a significant amount of heat from being absorbed by the roofs and then being transmitted into the schools.
There will be hiccups and naysayers.
On the naysayer front, the National Post’s Peter Foster is one particularly dangerous example. In his recent opinion piece, Foster loads up on his climate-change-denier wheaties and develops a piece riddled with bald assertions and sly innuendo designed to plant doubt and suspicion in the minds of his readers, rather than arguing from documented fact. This makes Foster an intellectual prostitute.
Foster’s concern is purely financial. He refers to the promise of Tim Hudak, leader of the provincial Conservatives, to end the energy subsidies. It seems likely that Hudak will be the next Premier of Ontario, unfortunately, given Canadians recent psychotic fetish with fascists (e.g. Der Fuhrer Stephen Harper, Rob the Slob Ford). This is certainly a problem, but only if the TDSB cannot finalize the deal before Hudak kills the green subsidy, because FIT contracts are (supposed to be) grandparented. If they are, then Hudak will not be able to kill contracts arranged before he kills the subsidy. Fingers crossed. (Note that Foster doesn’t mention grandparenting – which just makes his bias even more obvious.)
Unfortunately, cost doesn’t matter. We are now paying for the absurd energy orgies of the past. The science is still clear: the climate is changing. And whether we take action or not is not an issue. That is, any reduction in anthropogenic GHGs will weaken the overall global change in climate.
The choice remains clear: if we do not change our ways now, then the future continues to look bleak. The solar panel deal will generate electricity sustainably, help cool the schools, generate the funds needed to repair the roofs, and help teach the many, many students that the environment does matter, no matter what pricks like Peter Foster say.