Toronto schools to power up rooftops

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Forget the Pickering nuclear plant – you could soon be running your fridge on electricity supplied from your kids' school around the corner.

As the first step in an ambitious plan to create a green grid from the rooftops of schools across the city, the Toronto District School Board will spend the summer devising a renewable energy plan involving all 558 of its school sites.

If everything goes smoothly, windmills and solar panels will cover the roofs of 10 schools across the city as early as next summer.

"Because schools are so strategically located throughout the city, we could create a perfect green grid," said Josh Matlow, a board trustee and a driving force behind the idea.

The Ontario government announced a $250,000 grant for the first steps of the project.

The board – through a consultant – will examine everything from solar panels and solar thermal water heaters to ground source heating, said Sheila Penny, executive officer for facility services. It will have to decide whether to build and operate those systems or lease the space to renewable electricity companies. And then there's the question of using that electricity to power the schools themselves, or to sell it to the provincial power grid – a proposal that could earn the cash-strapped board big money in the long term, as electricity generated from solar panels pays a hefty 42 cents per kilowatt-hour. (By comparison, Toronto Hydro charges 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, plus transmission and other charges.)

Every project will become part of the school's environment curriculum, Matlow said.

"The physical presence of solar panels on the school roof would be a constant reminder," he said. "You are instantly aware that energy comes from somewhere and you need to be responsible for it."

William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate has a jump-start on the project. Led by 70 students, the school has already solicited proposals for solar panels to cover "every single square foot" of its roof, said David Godri, 18, the student who proposed the idea last summer. The company chosen will lease space from the school board.

"We have all these roofs that aren't being used," he said. "(The board is) losing money in the long run because they're waiting too long."

The student group, called SWITCH – Solar and Wind Initiatives Towards Change – has built four windmills they'll mount on the school roof this summer, he said.

Eco-school champion Cindy English said she hopes the board decides to generate electricity for their own use rather than selling it.

"When there was the big blackout in Toronto, it would have been nice to have alternative energy," said English, who planted a natural garden at Maurice Cody Public School, her children's elementary school.

"In Ontario, we have such an addiction to coal and nuclear. It's terrific the school board is trying to get away from that," said James Gibbons, a North Toronto Collegiate student who presented the board with a plan to shut down 60,000 school computers at night and in summers, saving $2.4 million annually. "Solar power is such an exciting option. On the hottest days, when the air conditions are driving up electricity demand, that's when solar panels produce the most electricity."


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