National collective spearheads solar for schools campaign

Environmental collective Australian Parents for Climate Action (AP4CA) has kicked off a campaign for federal funding for solar in schools and early childhood centres across Australia.

The Solar our Schools (SOS) campaign is calling for a national roll-out of federally-funded solar systems across Australian schools, following the success of two state grant programs in Queensland which have installed panels across the state.

The benefits to the program would be manifold, with reduced costs to the educational facilities meaning more funds for learning resources, the installation process generating much-needed jobs, and of course, reduced carbon emissions being a massive win for the environment.

Marie Carvolth, Gold Coast mum and AP4CA co-founder, is one of the campaign ‘Champions’, AP4CA volunteers who are spreading the word about SOS in school/childcare communities. We chatted with her about the campaign’s SOS Open Letter to the PM, calling for Solar our Schools funding as part of the next federal budget, and how the campaign came into existence.

Solar our Schools seems like a very obvious and much-needed initiative, now that we think about it. Are you aware if schemes like this have previously been presented to Government?

There has never been a national program to put solar and batteries on all schools and childcares across the country. Various State and Federal programs have provided solar for state schools in the past, but many schools still missed out. And most of those programs only installed small systems that don’t provide enough solar for the schools’ needs – and very few have funded batteries. 

Importantly, there has been almost no support for  non-government schools or early childhood centres to install solar. So, numerous schools and centres are missing out: estimates* indicate that at least 4000 (42.5% of all government and non-government schools) do not have solar and the majority of childcare centres and preschools are without it.

With Solar Our Schools & Early Childhood Centres (SOS), we’re asking for a national program to fund the installation of solar panels and batteries in all schools and early childhood centres that don’t yet have any (or enough) solar. We’re requesting means-tested grants for all privately-owned schools and early learning centres. As an organisation of Australian parents, our experience is that many schools struggle with the administrative burden of applying for grants and fundraising enough funds for solar. We’re calling on the Federal government to remove application burdens and streamline grants programs for solar and batteries (so it’s easy for schools and childcares).

*Beyond Zero Emissions ‘Million Jobs Plan’ 2020 

Can you tell us about the genesis of the idea, and how it all came together? 

We saw that coming out of the COVID-19 economic shutdown, there’s a need for government investment to create jobs and economic benefits that also help our community.

The need to cut our carbon emissions has never been more urgent. This initiative can deliver on these two needs at the same time – it’s a win-win. The Australian Parents for Climate Action team decided to fire up our members with a positive solution to both the economic and climate challenges we face and take it to the government (we know they’re looking for solutions right now). Our members were really excited about the concept and have jumped on the campaign – we already have more than 4000 signatures on our Open Letter to the Prime Minister and nearly 80 school and childcare ‘Champions’ helping to spread the word! 

Is there a strategy involved in petitioning the Morrison government on this rather than waiting until a Labor government takes office? 

Solar for schools and childcares is not a partisan issue – we need to give our schools and childcares more resources, create jobs and cut our carbon emissions now. So, we can’t wait for the next election for action! Research by Beyond Zero Emissions shows that installing solar panels and batteries on Australian schools and early childhood centres would:

  • Save $114,000 in annual energy bills per large school
  • Save $12,700 in annual energy bills per small school
  • Generate at least 6,870 jobs in the renewable energy industry, in communities across Australia

The benefits of this investment are so clear that we think the Morrison government will see it as a great investment opportunity to help Australia rebound after COVID-19.

Can you tell me any more details about the Queensland program in terms of when it was established, how long it’s been rolling out and when it’s due to be finished? Or if it finished, when it was? 

Queensland is one of the states that has been leading the way on solar in schools – we have two grant programs here that are installing panels on most state  primary and secondary schools.

The Advancing Clean Energy Schools (ACES) program is installing solar, and energy efficiency measures, in around 800 Queensland state schools. In February this year, the Queensland government announced that 26MW of additional solar capacity will be installed across schools by 2022, to air-condition state schools, under the Cooler Cleaner Schools Program.

However, these Queensland programs don’t fund childcare centres, kindergartens or private schools. And the solar systems installed only cover some of the energy needs of each school. Australian Parents for Climate Action is calling for a national program that fills these gaps and simplifies the process for schools and childcares to get solar. We’re also calling for batteries, so schools and childcares can store the unused energy they generate and then make more money by becoming part of a Virtual Power Plant (VPP), feeding excess electricity back into the grid.

Queensland voices matter here, because many Queensland school communities can attest to the value of solar. Plus, some of the key decision-makers are in Queensland, such as the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews – who is right here on the Gold Coast. 

What are you finding is the community response when you get into discussions with schools and childcare centres? 

Schools love the idea! They would all love solar and batteries – and if they have solar, they’d often like more. State schools, smaller private schools and most early childhood centres have few resources to put towards solar and no staff with time to go through the process of securing grants. They would love the Federal government to invest in their future in this way!

 What is the goal number of signatories to the petition and when are you hoping to be able to achieve that by? 

Our goal is to gain 10,000 signatures on the Open Letter, ahead of the Federal Budget on October 6. Yesterday (August 25), we hit 4000 signatures! 

Is there anything else you’d like people to know? 

We’re asking everyone to take an easy 30 seconds to sign our Open Letter – it’s simple to do that on the Australian Parents for Climate Action website at ap4ca.org. And please spread the word by sharing the letter in your newsletters or Facebook groups for your school, childcare, sporting club, community group or workplace. It’s a wonderful, easy way to do something great for your school, your community and the planet!

You can also head to the ‘volunteer’ page on our website to join me and a whole heap of other great people as a SOS ‘Champions’. You’ll spend as little as 20 minutes per week spreading the word about the campaign in your school and childcare communities.

Left header image: The Breadtag Project (C) Shani Nottingham

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