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Schools can save on utility costs

Joint Op-Ed letter in the Chicago Sun-Times by Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association

As the school calendar winds down for summer break, students and families will be making plans for vacations, camp, and trips to the beach. Back on campus, administrators and educators will be preparing for next year, including piecing together a plan to keep their aging buildings operational.

Older heating and air-conditioning systems, deteriorating plumbing and antiquated electric networks make it harder for our students to focus on learning.

But the recently enacted Climate and Equitable Jobs Act established an ambitious plan to upgrade schools with energy efficient retrofits and solar power. The Carbon-Free Schools program was championed by Climate Jobs Illinois, a coalition of labor unions advocating for a pro-worker agenda to fight climate change through equitable investments in clean energy infrastructure.

Illinois schools spend upwards of $322 million in energy costs every year. With this program, we can make our schools healthier and safer with better ventilation and lighting and efficiency upgrades, and save schools an estimated 25% on energy bills. The savings can be put back into the classroom.

At Lake Park High School in Roselle, a $4.4 million solar power system investment will net a savings of over $5 million over the next 25 years and a $463,000 utility rebate. The new system has reduced emissions equivalent to taking 991 cars off the roads.

Every student in Illinois deserves to be in an environment like Lake Park that keeps them safe, healthy and focused on learning, not worrying about whether the air conditioning will stay on.

CEJA’s Carbon-Free Schools program paves a way for public schools to apply for and tap into renewable energy credits, with specific emphasis on schools in underinvested communities. Every school district is also entitled to a free energy audit to help them identify upgrades and savings opportunities. The new law also requires utilities to develop a plan to get more electric school buses on the roads.

If you’re a school administrator, learn how to apply for renewable energy credits and schedule your energy audit.

If you’re a teacher, parent, or community member, get the word out. Ask your superintendent or principal to learn more about how to take advantage of this initiative.

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