New schools should be energy neutral, public school board says
Newly constructed Alberta schools should be "net zero," Edmonton public school trustees believe — equipped to both conserve energy and generate it from renewable resources.
On Tuesday, public school trustees approved a motion 7-to-1 to ask Alberta’s education minister to make future school construction projects energy-neutral by equipping them to generate at least as much energy as they consume.
Trustee Michael Janz, who proposed the idea, said the province should embrace more environmentally sound public buildings to avoid contributing to climate change, to dodge the risks of rising fossil fuel costs and to give students tools to learn about conservation and renewable energy.
“As stewards of our climate and our community, we need to make sure that our young people have an education that’s rich with teachers, not just energy bills,” Janz said Tuesday.
Technology has evolved to bring the cost of constructing net-zero buildings — which could use geothermal, solar and wind power — nearly on par with a conventional building, Janz said.
Trustee Ken Gibson, who is also the executive director of the Alberta Construction Association, said he’s seen studies indicating net-zero buildings can be constructed for about three-to-six per cent more money than a typical building. Achieving parity in those costs requires consumers to increase demand, and the industry will respond, he said.
Gibson also said Alberta’s construction industry likely has the expertise to do net-zero builds well.
‘We need to focus on our needs’
Although they liked the idea of building schools with a lower environmental impact, a couple of trustees questioned whether lobbying the education minister was the best approach.
Board chairwoman Michelle Draper asked whether the board should instead decide to build all future Edmonton public schools as net zero, rather than sending yet another request to a cabinet minister.
Draper said the board should save its provincial advocacy for priorities such as a new high school constructed in southeast Edmonton, without which the city’s public schools will be facing a critical space crunch for teens by 2022. The board has also been asking for help with a $768-million backlog of deferred maintenance on older schools and more in-school mental-health workers.
“We need to focus on our needs, our priorities,” said Draper, the sole trustee to vote against the motion.
Trustee Nathan Ip also questioned whether asking for higher-cost net-zero schools might affect how many school construction projects government approves, if the builds are pricier. The district has a lengthy wish list of construction projects it wants to complete.
Janz said the government is already funding solar panel installations on schools, and “are ripe for a nudge in this direction.”
The Alberta Council on Environmental Education wrote to the board in support of Janz’s proposal, saying net-zero schools have the potential to reduce the district’s carbon footprint and save money in the long run.
“We believe that Net Zero schools represent an excellent opportunity to foster student learning around energy efficiency and renewable energy, learnings that students can then take out into their community and homes,” senior education adviser Marie Tremblay wrote. “Indeed, schools are uniquely positioned to be roles models of sustainability for the communities in which they are embedded.”