A student group at West High School has set an ambitious goal of raising $50,000 to install 100 solar panels on the roof of the school.
If the West Green Club can meet its goal, the Madison School District will contribute $25,000 to install the panels. The panels, which can produce 30 kilowatts of electricity at peak times, would join others mounted on top of the school in the 1990s.
Since then, the district has installed a small number of solar panels atop all five Madison high schools. The panels, which provide a negligible savings on the schools’ electric bills, were installed mostly for educational reasons. If they’re successful, the West Green Club would significantly up West High School’s solar energy use.
Since fundraising started in June, the student-led coalition at West has raised $17,400 through the end of August. The goal is to complete the fundraising by the end of this year so the panels can be installed next June. Donations are funneled through the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools and can be made through the club’s website at www.westgreenclub.org. In addition to other funding sources, the club’s biannual electronic waste recycling drive, which raises at least $2,000, will help the cause.
The club also has tried to raise awareness and donations in a variety of ways such as setting up a solar panel display and running games at the Regent Neighborhood July 4th party and hosted an ice cream social at the school.
“While it didn’t raise as much compared to other (fundraisers), it raised awareness,” said member Nyah Banik, a senior.
Club president Charles Hua said what makes the effort unique is that it is entirely student led.
“If adults (i.e. district administrators, parents) were to lead this initiative instead of youth, no long-term increase in awareness among students of energy challenges would be made,” he said.
The club, which typically has about 40 members, this year piqued the interest of 63 freshmen who signed up for it on first day of school.
Patrick Grady, a West High English teacher and the club’s adviser, said a student approached him about starting the group in 2001. Grady said he was already incorporating social justice and environmental issues in his curriculum, so it felt like a natural fit.
Since then, he said, students have continued to step into leadership roles. He encourages students to run with an idea and will occasionally nudge them with one of his own. He was particularly struck by former President Barack Obama’s goal of reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.
“I told Charles, ‘If that is the goal for the country, let’s make it the goal for the school,’” said Grady, noting that West’s electric costs are currently $291,000 a year.
The club has other initiatives including a composting program for food waste, which is getting a renewed push this year.
Outside of West, the group hopes to launch similar “green clubs” at elementary and middle schools across the district to increase awareness and commitment for the long term.
“The solar panels symbolize our commitment to greenness,” senior Grace Upham said. “This is our future. We want to make it clean, we want to make it green and we are making it happen.”