The engines that power our clean energy schools of the future
April 19, 2014

At my elementary school there was a cavernous space back behind the gym that housed a collection of intimidating mechanical boxes, wheezing with age and blinking with an endless array of lights. We called this the “Boiler Plant” and it has struck in my memory as a comical steam engine, churning away to heat the home rooms and vent the science lab. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but the “Boiler Plant” was the backbone of my education. Perhaps more than any other aspect of the school’s function, energy systems are fundamental to classroom success. Air quality and temperature play meaningful roles in student learning, and even small temperature changes have been shown to effect test results. Squeezed budgets have encouraged schools across the country to embrace energy efficiency and renewable energy to lower their utility bills and avoid making staff cuts. Energy efficiency projects are particularly productive, creating 10 jobs for every $1 million invested, one of the best returns on investments possible for job creation. 

Every public school in Washington has a system for maintaining classroom temperature and ventilation.  Courtesy of a very savvy policy, the Jobs Now Act, newly revamped systems are saving schools money, helping students learn better, and creating local jobs.

In 2010 the Washington State legislature passed the Jobs Now Act, providing grants to school districts for energy efficiency and other cost-saving investments. The grants performed as expected—that is to say, they are awesome. In October of 2012, the WA Department of Commerce published a review of the program that found that through 77 grants, over $42 million was distributed and nearly a thousand jobs were created. 

Yes, the headline numbers are good. But as more details emerge, particularly at the project level, the Jobs Now funding starts to look like one of the very best public investments possible: The Granger School District got itself a new computer based heating and cooling system (“The Big Chiller”) while the school districts of Hoquiam and Aberdeen hired a slew of local firms to upgrade their boilers and their insulation, saving a middle school in the process. The complete list of grants can be found online and there is a decent chance that your child’s school (or your alma mater?) will be on the list.

Let's recap: new, efficient energy systems help kids learn, save schools money and are good for jobs. (With these results, HVAC systems should run for office!)

Despite such resounding and widespread success (GrangerHoquiamAberdeen!) funding for the Jobs Act isn’t guaranteed; we need the legislature to renew it this year. Every time a politician talks about needing to fund schools, create jobs and spur local economic development, they should include  the Jobs Now Act. 

Speak up now, tell the legislature to fund the Jobs Now Act, and watch the cranky old boilers of my youth become the engines that power our clean energy schools of the future.

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Author Bio

As Climate Solutions' Washington Policy Specialist, Ben provided policy research and expertise for Climate Solutions in and out of the Washington legislature. Working with the policy team from 2012 to 2015, Ben worked on legislative, budgetary, and regulatory issues related to electricity generation and transmission, fossil fuel transport, and transportation fuels at the state and federal level. In 2014 he was named a Young Climate Leaders Network Fellow. 

Before moving to Seattle, Ben consulted for the Ministry of Commerce in Cambodia, studied economic development in Brazil, worked on carbon market policy for The Nature Conservancy in San Francisco and attended college in Walla Walla, Washington, where he received an honors degree in Politics-Environmental Studies from Whitman College.

Ben enjoys Seattle’s rain, coffee and forgiving clothing culture where anything plaid counts as a dress shirt.

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