Solar panels on the roof of a Samohi building
solar samohi

The Santa Monica Malibu-Unified School District (SMMUSD), one of the city’s largest energy consumers, is set to begin the transition to running on 100% renewable energy.

The move, which was approved by the Board of Education with a unanimous thumbs-up at their March 15 meeting, is expected to be finalized by the end of the year.

The decision follows mounting pressure from district staff, teachers and students for SMMUSD to take greater strides towards sustainability in the face of climate change.

“We are currently at one of the most critical points in the history of our planet…” Samohi student and member of the school’s Team Marine club Maya Williams told the board. “We need strong leaders such as yourselves to stand up for what we know to be right, to listen to the science and move away from the fossil fuel industry.”

SMMUSD previously ran on 100% green power through the Clean Power Alliance from March 2019 until March 2020, when the decision was reversed for cost reasons. Since then, district schools and offices have received just 40% renewable energy, except for Samohi and Malibu High School which were downgraded to zero percent.

SMMUSD Sustainability Manager Austin Toyama said that in addition to growing public support, transitioning back to fully renewable energy at this time makes financial sense due to rate hikes by Southern California Edison’s (SCE), the district’s energy supplier.

He said this has decreased the added cost of switching all of the district’s accounts to a 100% green power plan from a previous estimate in January of $109,000 per year to just $30,000 to $40,000, a fraction of the $1.3 million yearly average the district spends on electricity. Furthermore, he said this cost will likely be fully offset by new solar systems and better power management.

“SCE and Clean Power Alliance rates will continue to change year to year, that’s inevitable, but our energy conservation efforts and increased solar generation will help reduce any added costs for sourcing renewable energy,” Toyama said.

He added that SMMUSD’s energy use has been on the rise in recent years, due in part to construction, and said this move will lessen the negative environmental impacts.

“As district energy use increases, so does our carbon emissions – we have so many buildings and facilities that we have a large environmental footprint in the community,” he said. “We can significantly curb these emissions by sourcing electricity from renewable sources instead of fossil fuels.”

SCE will still serve as the pipeline to deliver electricity to the district, however through the partnership with CPA it will come from energy generated by renewable sources rather than natural gas.

Now that district staff have been authorized by the board to move forward, Toyama said it will take approximately six months to fully complete the transition. While the accounts currently on the 40% renewable plan through CPA can be upgraded to 100% immediately, it will take longer to get Samohi and Malibu High School on board.

Toyama said he thinks student advocacy was key in the district reaching this milestone.

“Students are just really up to date and are well-informed, so knowing that the push for renewable is coming from our youth and our students, it makes a big difference.”

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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...