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Charlotte Area School Board Candidates Discuss Renewable Energy

by Carolyn Auwaerter

September 17, 2015

On November 3, voters in the Charlotte, North Carolina area will choose three at-large school board members to join the nine-person board of education for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). Here's what they think about renewable energy.

Duke Energy Balloon Banner in the US

The Greenpeace "One World" hot air balloon flies with a banner on one side reading "Solar Works for All."

© Jason Miczek / Greenpeace

Last week, seven of the nine candidates for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools board of education attended the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum, where they responded to issues of importance to the community like increasing graduation rates for high risk students and powering schools with renewable energy.

Greenpeace is a member of the Repower Our Schools coalition, an effort to transition North Carolina’s public school districts to 100 percent renewable electricity, so we were happy to see this issue addressed.

Here’s what each candidate had to say (and thanks to the Forum for posting a video of the event).

Jeremy Stephenson

What he says:

“As far as green energy, North Carolina has some of the strongest solar companies there are and that’s supplying jobs … if we can connect the energy industry to our schools, I think that is absolutely good for everybody. I would strongly support green energy in our schools.”

What we say:

North Carolina ranks fourth nationally for total solar capacity and installed 397 megawatts in 2014, making it the state with the second-most added solar capacity after California.

Ericka Ellis-Stewart

What she says:

“I too would support green energy, particularly solar energy … I know we need clean air and clean energy in our schools and it impacts the entire community. There’s also an economic benefit to the schools if we could do it. Unfortunately, state law is not set up in a way that would allow us to do it currently so there would be a lot of lobbying that would need to take place on behalf of the board and the community to get state law changed. Right now, North Carolina is one of only four states in the country that don’t allow for that type of program.”

What we say:

Ellis-Stewart is referring to third-party energy sales, sometimes also called solar leasing or “no money down solar.” In this arrangement, an energy company would install and maintain a solar array on a school rooftop and the school district would buy the energy that is produced by the panels. Third-party energy sales would make it easier for everyone to access solar, because the rooftop owner doesn’t have the upfront cost of buying the solar panels.  

Elyse Dashew

What she says:

“Pineville Elementary, one of our more newly built schools, is LEED certified … In the restrictive fiscal environment we’re in, I would support modeling our other schools after Pinewood Elementary so we have those benefits but without necessarily paying the extra money for the official certification.”

What we say:

The U.S. Green Building Council administers the LEED program, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED-certified buildings “save money and resources and have a positive impact on the health of occupants, while promoting renewable, clean energy.” The new Pineville Elementary uses 35 percent less energy than the previous building. Reducing energy use should always be the first step.

Mary T. McCray

What she says:

“I serve as co-chair of our legislative committee and one of the things that we are doing — we are working with Clean Air [Carolina] and Repower [Our Schools] to include them as part of our legislative agenda going forward for this year.”

What we say:

There is a bill in the general assembly called the Energy Freedom Act (HB245) that has bipartisan support to make third party energy sales legal in North Carolina. The support of school districts could have a big impact on legislators.

Amelia Stinson-Weasley

What she says:

“I am a complete convert to LEED certification process. It was my understanding that we are using Pineville as a model for LEED-certified schools and all subsequent schools will be built to those specs but not necessarily go through the expensive process of becoming certified … Because, as Erica mentioned, it does take some state buy-in for that, it needs to be a part of the CMS legislative agenda for year to year in order for that to be a part of our lobbying efforts.”

What we say:

See our prior responses to Erica Ellis-Stewart, Elyse Dashew, and Mary T. McCray.

Levester Flowers

What he says:

“I too concur … a friend of mine, Michael Zytkow [Repower Our Schools coalition member] is working with me on my campaign to make sure I push for that as part of my agenda. What savings arise from doing this, I want to immediately transfer those savings to our janitors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers who make less than a living wage.”

What we say:

CMS uses more than 191 million kilowatts of electricity annually. A significant benefit of switching to solar is spending less money on energy and more on other district priorities. Note: Michael Zytkow is not in any way affiliated with Flowers’ campaign. Repower Our Schools is asking all candidates what they think about renewable electricity in CMS.

Janeen Bryant

What she says:

“I think renewable energy is common sense. It’s what we all should be doing. Teachers and students should know about renewable energy, should be thinking about solar energy … one of the ways that we could address this really quickly is to start some micro-curriculum lessons that help students understand their role in the ecology of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.”

What we say:

The new economy will be run by renewable sources, and our kids should be prepared for it. Powering our schools with solar energy gives students direct access to a rising technology, and puts the jobs of tomorrow into the classroom today.

It’s exciting that all school board candidates at the forum are supportive of renewable energy and green buildings for our schools. We look forward to hearing more from candidates on how CMS can transition to 100 percent renewable electricity as we get closer to election day.

Carolyn Auwaerter

By Carolyn Auwaerter

Carolyn Auwaerter is a Field Organizing Manager at Greenpeace USA. She works on climate and renewable energy in the southeast and Greenpeace's Food for Life campaign.

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