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OPINION | ZANE ALSEBAI AND RAGA MANDALI: A new chapter

LRSD should use solar energy by ZANE ALSEBAI AND RAGA MANDALI SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | April 14, 2022 at 3:03 a.m.

April 28 marks the next groundbreaking chapter in the legacy of the Little Rock School District. At 5:30 p.m., the student-run advocacy group Young Leftists will once again be pressing the Little Rock Board of Education on the implementation of solar panels within new construction in the district--a matter that will change the environmental, economic, and social trajectory of the LRSD.

Solar energy has emerged as a necessary force in the fight against climate change. As traditional energy sources have proved to be costly and environmentally damaging, many schools have taken advantage of the carbon-cutting, cost-saving benefits of solar energy.

As students concerned for the well-being of our district, we want to see this change happen within our schools too.

Back in November, we first introduced our solar-panel campaign to the school board, backed by 12 speakers and 107 student comments. Although Superintendent Mike Poore initially questioned the feasibility of our requests, we continued to ask questions and refine our campaign to meet the parameters of the school board.

In these five months, we have exceeded previous expectations of student advocacy, garnering the support of important figures such as school board member Ali Noland. Now, it's time to widen our scope to the larger Little Rock community.

Take one thing from this article: Switching to solar would not cost the district a dime--our proposal would only save money. Although the school district has made efforts to reduce our carbon footprint through the installation of high-efficiency boilers, new HVAC systems, and LED lights, the marginal amount of money saved through reduced utility rates and costs pale in comparison to the amount of money that solar systems could save.

While current energy costs on average around 9 to 11 cents/kilowatt-hour, solar energy is significantly lower at 6 cents/kilowatt-hour. On top of that, Entergy--the current energy provider for the LRSD--increased its rates by 7.5 percent just this month, and has committed to increasing costs by 4 percent annually for the next four years.

Through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), the LRSD could replace a significant portion of its current energy with solar with zero upfront costs and pay less over time than its current rate. This would allow the district to dodge both the initial costs of solar-panel implementation as well as the ever-rising costs of nonrenewable energy.

As the school year soon comes to an end, however, we realize that achieving the full benefits of solar energy is time-sensitive--meaning that we need promises for change now.

First, we ask that the Board of Education promises to consider the implementation of solar panels into all future construction within the district from here on forward. This ensures not only that the benefits of solar energy are not limited to a specific school within the district, but also that the scale of the project will continue to grow with time.

However, change cannot come without accountability on the part of the school board. We believe that organizing a student-run advisory committee would help the district follow through with policy implementation and champion the voices of students. Acting as liaisons between the students of the LRSD and the school board, the committee would ensure that the board is staying on track with its promises, while simultaneously proliferating student-led projects in the future.

We can understand why the LRSD might be hesitant to take on large projects during a global pandemic. Budget constraints have only compounded problems with student enrollment and declining infrastructure.

But this single change can begin to address these issues by saving the district money--all while putting us on a path to clean energy.

This is our chance to join over 7,000 other schools in their fight against the climate crisis--a number that is rapidly growing. This is the district's chance to show that they are listening to us students and are committed to the changes that we desire.

And this is your chance to join the fight for a more sustainable Little Rock.

We implore you to come to the school board meeting and learn more about our concerns, and send in your public comments to show support for the campaign. Join us at 5:30 p.m. April 28 at the Little Rock Board of Education Building, 810 W. Markham St.


Zane Alsebai and Raga Mandali are students at Little Rock Central High School.


Print Headline: A new chapter

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