Panelists talk solar at STEAM fundraising event

Julie Reichle

Students for Solar are helping raise the funds for solar panels that will be installed on the roof of the STEAM building.

Students for Solar raised $54,722 during a February 22 virtual launch event designed to raise funds for solar panels on the new STEAM building.

The 12 Piedmont and Millennium High School students working for a Net Zero energy building are aiming to raise $400,000.

When the STEAM building opens, roughly 58% of the solar panels — including all shade panels on the south and west windows and on the engineering and art patios — will already be in place and fully operational. (See the Measure H1 website for more information about this project.)

Sustainable energy experts explored the benefits and tradeoffs of solar panel installation as a way to meet climate goals.

UC Berkeley Professor of Environmental Economics Meredith Fowlie kicked off the event by analyzing how the PHS project affects greenhouse gas emissions and energy cost savings, and informs students about environmental issues and renewable energy.

Fowlie said the main value in installing solar panels would be their educational value, that “rooftop solar can be a living laboratory.” While installing solar panels at PHS would theoretically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it isn’t be a very effective use of resources in the big picture. “This is an expensive place to put a solar project,” she said, “We want to be working in economies of scale,” in order to make a real impact in reducing emissions.

She also highlighted equity considerations. Fowlie explained that solar panels tend to be in upperclass neighborhoods and because in California PG&E fixed costs are made up in per kWM retail rates, when upperclass people and institutions shift to solar the per kWM retail rates go up. This places the burden of paying higher kWM retail rates on lower-income people. “When I put solar on my roof, a significant share of my electricity savings are actually cost shifts to other people,” she said.

Josh Posamentier, a Piedmont parent and sustainable energy investor, shared the designs for the STEAM building and broke down the cost. He proceeded to present a simulation of how the solar panels would save the district money. He estimated that the project saves the district $1.2 million dollars in energy costs.

Alyssa Dykman, the Piedmont Sustainability Program Manager, presented the Piedmont long-term sustainability plan, Climate Action 2.0, and explained how the solar panel project at Piedmont High School would put Piedmont on track to reach their 2030 energy goals.

The final presenter, Gabriel Kra, co-founder and managing director of Prelude Ventures, a venture capital firm partnering with entrepreneurs to address climate change, contextualized the solar project as a way to shift away from coal and natural gas towards renewable energy.

Opportunities to donate to the project were interspersed throughout the event. Moira Chapman of Piedmont Connect for a sustainable future presented a $15,000 challenge grant to Students for Solar, and School Board President Cory Smegal, presented a pledge of $20,000 by current and past school board members.

(This article was updated on March 18 to reflect fundraising goals and the total amount raised during the event.)

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