For one year, from March 2019 to March 2020, Santa Monica Malibu School District (SMMUSD) ran on 100% renewable energy.

The District reversed the move for cost reasons, but pressure is mounting from students, teachers and community members for SMMUSD to again make the commitment to fully green power– and this time, stick with it.

Samohi students Maya Williams and Willa Ross, both members of the school’s Team Marine environmental activism club, addressed the Board of Education during a discussion on the matter at their meeting last week. Williams noted that the sustainability plan the Board adopted in 2019 had set a goal to transition to fully renewable electricity by 2020.

“We’ve gone back on that decision,” she said. “We feel the Board should show their climate commitment and decide to enroll in CPA’s 100% renewable energy program.”

SMMUSD is a customer of the Clean Power Alliance (CPA), an organization that offers a variety of power plans with differing levels of renewably-sourced energy. The District is currently on the lowest plan, receiving only 40% of its energy from carbon-free sources.

To upgrade to the 100% renewable plan, SMMUSD Sustainability Manager Austin Toyama said that it would initially cost the District an additional $109,000 per year on top of the $884,000 that they currently pay. However, he added that this would be offset in the next few years as multiple new solar projects come online that will allow the District to generate 28-30% of its own energy. This would reduce the total net added cost of switching to the 100% renewable plan to $30,000 a year.

SMMUSD Chief Operations Officer Carey Upton told the board he feels recent efforts, such as the new solar panel installations – particularly at Samohi which is one of the largest energy consumers in the District– put the District in a good place to now be able to follow through with the clean energy transition.

“When we tried clean power for the highschool before, it increased our cost immediately by 40-50%, so that’s where we sort of pulled back,” he said. “But we believe that we’re now, with those systems fully online, we’re getting good information that’s telling us it’s just that funding [the $30,000].”

Scientist, Samohi teacher, SMC professor and parent Benjamin Kay added his voice to those showing support for the move at the recent Board meeting.

“My deep hope is that the Board of Education makes a strong and unified recommendation to the school district leaders to adopt the 100% green power option of the Clean Power Alliance…” he said. “Not doing so would show a lack of responsibility and commitment in addressing environmental degradation and adverse human health effects, environmental injustice and economic instability.”

His son, a student at Will Rogers Elementary School, also took to the mic.

“I want SMMUSD to use earth-friendly energy. I do not want us to use energy from fossil fuels, instead I would use wind and solar energy – now who’s with me?” he asked.

At least 800 others appear to be on board and have signed an online petition organized by Team Marine for Samohi to commit to transition to 100% renewable energy.

“Santa Monica is already a leader in sustainability and we, as Santa Monica residents, should continue that leadership by bringing our schools into the next phase of our climate commitment with 100% renewable energy” Ross said. “We hope that you will stand with us and the 872 people that signed our petition, and take this first crucial step towards protecting our planet earth.”

The topic was brought before the Board as an informational item, meaning no action could immediately be taken, but Interim Superintendent Mark Kelly and board members unanimously agreed to instruct District staff to look into the budget implications of upgrading the plan and bring it back for a vote at a future meeting.

“At the end of the day we’re talking about a $30,000 investment every year, which is really nothing compared to what we spend,” Board Chair Maria Leon-Vasquez said. “But more importantly than anything, as we’re looking at the world and what we already have suffered in California with climate change, I think this is… the direction the board should take, moving forward on this.”

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Grace Adams

Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...