Aussie parents pester PM to fund solar for every school and childhood centre 

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Aussie parents are calling on the federal government to pull their heads in and start behaving themselves, which is to say, to stop lollygagging around and make large-scale investment in solar and energy storage across all schools and early childhood centres as part of a renewably led Covid-19 economic recovery. 

The Australian Parents for Climate Action (AP4CA), which has over 6,000 members across every state and territory, has proposed this initiative, Solar our Schools (SOS), alongside an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison in which the parental organisation calls for full funding for solar and batteries across all public and non-profit schools, kindergartens, child care centres and even means-tested grants for all private educational institutions. 

AP4CA have said that its call comes off the back of research published by think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) as part of its Million Jobs Report. BZE, perhaps most notable for its prescience regarding the renewable energy potential of the Northern Territory, published a green scaffold on which it believes Australia’s economy can rebuild and create 1.8 million new jobs through renewables and low emissions projects over the next five years. The plan already has strong support, including Mike Cannon-Brookes, Ross Garnaut, Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin McCann, and Christiana Figueres. 

“Australia needs a clean-energy-driven Covid-19 economic recovery that improves our schools and communities, creates thousands of clean jobs and cuts our greenhouse emissions,” says Suzie Brown, National Director and Founder, AP4CA. 

“Installing solar and batteries will slash energy bills,” continued Brown, “so schools and early childhood centres will have more money for better learning resources and facilities.” 

AP4CA sprung into action when the findings of BZE’s research in the writing of its Million Jobs Report showed that installing solar panels and batteries at an additional 4,000 Australian schools would save $114,000 in annual energy bills at a large school and $12,700 at a small school. As it stands, approximately 42% of the 9503 schools (both public and private) in Australia don’t have solar and/or batteries, or have insufficient solar capabilities. 

Moreover, the large-scale task of installing said solar panels and batteries would create 6,870 jobs in the renewable energy industry, and save 395,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Of course, with such a large-scale rollout of energy storage systems, they can all be connected into a Virtual PowerPlant (VPP). Some may remember Labor’s pledge in the 2019 election to connect 4,000 schools into VPPs through a $1 billion solar program financed through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC). VPPs enable networks of energy storage devices to deliver energy back into the grid – helping to drive down electricity bills for households and businesses. 

AP4CA points to schools like Fyans Park Primary School in Geelong, Victoria, which installed a 94kW solar array in 2019 with the help of a Victorian state government grant of $150,000. Additionally, Fyns Park Primary also installed two Tesla Powerwall batteries, the combination allowing the school to save $10,000 – $15,000 annually on electricity bills that can be put directly back into school resources. 

States and territories

In a story that is all too common across the energy and green energy spectrum, it is the states and territories that have to make up for logical deficiencies at the federal level. 

The Northern Territory has a solar panel rollout to schools currently underway, although only 25 schools are to receive the benefits. However, the Victorian Government is looking to follow suit with the opening of applications for its Greener Government School Buildings Program. 

In the Australian Capital Territory the government is looking to solar and storage at schools and universities to help bring down energy costs in the face of Covid-19 related pressure. 

And, of course, some will remember Katoomba High School student Estelle Dee in New South Wales, collecting signatures to petition NSW Energy and Environment Minister, Matt Kean, for the installation of solar panels at every NSW public school within the next three years. The precocious Dee, who chaired a panel at the National Energy Summit in 2019, cites a Government-funded report from the School Energy Productive Program, which found that not only is NSW spending way too much money on energy, the report estimated it could be saving $45 million annually. 

Estelle Dee speaking at the Smart Energy Council’s Smart Energy Summit 2019.

Image: Estelle Dee / YouTube / Screenshot

AP4CA sees the SOS initiative as the bridge for the gaps of the solar grant programs currently run by states and territories. “Current grant programs do not provide for enough schools and early childhood centres and private schools are generally not included,” said Brown. 

“Schools struggle with the administrative burden of applying for grants and fundraising enough funds for solar,” said Brown finally, “we’re calling on the federal government to remove these burdens and make solar and batteries possible for all schools and centres.