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Hard times could be ahead for rural school districts that spent federal pandemic money on teacher salaries, a former Oregon lumber community drafts a climate-action plan and West Virginians may soon buy raw milk from squeaky-clean cows.

Proposed Bill Helps Schools Become Climate Friendly

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Tuesday, January 31, 2023   

Proposed legislation would help schools throughout Virginia adopt renewable energy.

The bill would direct the Virginia Department of Energy and the Commission on School Construction and Modernization to gather information about climate-smart programs for schools to implement. Schools in the state would also receive technical assistance and help seeking funding sources.

Del. Suhas Subramanyam, D-Ashburn, the bill's author, said while the program the bill creates is completely optional, an important part of future building will include renewable energy.

"When you build a school, it doesn't just last five years, and then you tear it down, and you build another one. It's got to last a long time. Decades, right?" Subramanyam pointed out. "And I don't see us in 20, 30 years; I don't see a future that's not going to involve renewable energy."

Subramanyam considers it common-sense legislation, and an easy way to help schools, without forcing them to adopt the measure, if they do not have the funding to do so.

School administrators told him they were not sure how to access certain climate-friendly resources. A previous version of the bill was introduced in 2021 but needed to be revised. Subramanyam hopes the legislation will aid schools in preparing for a climate-smart future.

Molly Robertson, research associate at Resources for the Future, believes it is a critical part of the puzzle to ensure schools move toward climate friendliness. One benefit she sees is getting schools access to information about adapting renewable-energy resources.

However, she noted if they do not have the resources to get involved with the program, there is not much help in the way of accessing climate-smart grants. Robertson added there are lower-cost options to make Virginia schools more environmentally friendly.

"The easiest one that a lot of schools have tackled is replacing their lighting system and using high-efficiency LED bulbs," Robertson explained. "But, there are other things that can make an even bigger impact, like replacing heating systems from natural-gas heating systems to electric heating systems like heat pumps."

She emphasized larger school districts have energy-conservation programs in place, but others might need to establish them, potentially starting at the state level. While it is one part of a larger puzzle, Robertson thinks the bill offers schools a unique opportunity to be part of the push to decarbonize buildings.

Disclosure: Resources for the Future contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, and Urban Planning/Transportation. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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House Bill passed with an overwhelming vote of 94-6, with three abstentions. Its companion, Senate Bill 159, passed unanimously with a vote of 34-0. (Chad Robertson/Adobe Stock)

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