Bring Sunshine to our Classrooms and Save Solar

It’s way too costly not to says Jenny Ross

There are fewer things that light up a child’s face or an inspire a fit of infectious giggles as much as a life-sized sunshine walking into their school assembly, just ask the pupils of Milton St John’s and Micklehurst All Saints Primary Schools in my hometown of Mossley, Tameside. I had the pleasure to talk to them about the benefits of solar power, as they joined with me to help send a very urgent message to Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, to “Save our Solar” ahead of the Paris Global Climate Talks.

save our solar Milton St John

The case for solar on schools isn’t hard to make. Depending on their roof capacity, schools are able to pay back their initial investment within 4-8 years. An average sized school can save up to £8,000 a year from exporting energy to grid, revenue from feed-in tariffs and savings on fuel bills.

If every school were to make these changes locally then the national rewards would be huge: saving enough money to pay for 6,000 teachers’ annual salaries, generating the same amount of electricity as 380,000 homes do in a year and cutting carbon emissions by the equivalent of taking 110,000 cars off the road – not to mention helping educate children about the urgent need to keep fossil fuels in the ground and protecting schools from over-inflated energy bills.

save our solar micklehurst crop.jpg

Like me, as a prospective parliamentary candidate Amber Rudd signed Friends of the Earth’s pledge to help schools Run on Sun. She even had a picture of herself snuggled up to the very same sunshine that accompanied me into assembly. Unlike me, she is now in the most opportune position to come good on that pledge. Yet, instead of smoothing the way for schools and aiming for 6 million solar roofs across the UK by 2020, she is fast-tracking fracking and signing cozy deals with the French and Chinese for a nuclear build that ties consumers into paying two-and-a-half times what they do now for electricity.

Meanwhile, she’s hit the UK renewables industry with a wrecking ball: removed wind farm subsidies, cut back home insulation funding, withdrawn tax relief for solar farms, and the current consultation on feed-in tariffs (FiTs) proposes to end them completely or reduce them by an industry decimating 87%. For a party that claims to love the free market, the Tories are doing their level best to create a captive one for their friends in gas and nuclear.

20,000 jobs in UK solar are now at risk, £127 million worth of solar projects have been shelved – committing the UK to another 1.2million tons of carbon by 2020 – and schemes like 10:10’s Solar Schools, which has helped 65 schools switch to clean energy, say if the ‘Keep FiTs’ campaign isn’t successful it’s unlikely Solar Schools will run again next year.

Cecily Spelling, Solar School Projects Manager at 10:10 calls it a crying shame, saying Solar Schools “has opened the doors to educate both pupils and adults about energy and climate change. We’ve seen students queuing up to join eco clubs and fighting over who is going to be the eco warrior chief and to lose that would be a devastating blow for schools and future generations.”

keep Fits Milton St John
Whilst Rudd claims support for clean energy is “too costly” the truth is it’s too costly not to support it. Research from Oil Change International shows fossil fuels received £6Bn worth of UK subsidies in 2013-2014. In the same year, UK renewables received just £2.5Bn, and unlike fossil fuels, renewables don’t carry the disbenefit of contributing to dangerous global warming that, on our current trajectory, will cost 5% of annual global GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to mitigate

If the school children I met can work out that the benefits of solar are that it’s clean, it’s free, it doesn’t create any dangerous waste or pollution, and it will never run out, then the Secretary of State for Energy has got no excuse for an energy policy that makes neither fiscal, environmental or ethical sense.

Amber Rudd must know that she has to find a way to turn around the government’s current disastrous energy policy. She should start by keeping FiTs and pledging to put solar on the roof of every one of the 29,000 schools in the UK.

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