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Millcreek Journal

Student group pushes for carbon-free energy use in Granite School District

Mar 29, 2022 09:58PM ● By Darrell Kirby

Student-led Granite Clean Energy Team is working to reduce the school district’s use of fossil fuels. (Photo courtesy Ava Curtis)

By Darrell Kirby | [email protected]

A group of current and former students in the Granite School District is on a mission to get the district to reduce its carbon footprint by using entirely clean energy by 2040.

The Granite Clean Energy Team is gathering signatures on a petition to urge the Granite School Board to adopt a resolution committing the district to using 100% clean electricity in its more than 80 schools across central Salt Lake County by 2030. It would also call for an end to using fossil fuels for school buses and other district vehicles, heating and cooling systems, and cooking by 2040.

“It includes incremental goals to build on the district’s ongoing efforts to reduce energy consumption,” said team leader Ava Curtis, a senior at Taylorsville High School.

She said the student-led initiative is similar to one in the Salt Lake City School District in 2020 that resulted in its board passing a resolution to move to clean power and weaning itself off fuels over that same 2030-40 schedule.

Curtis and her cohorts have met with Granite board members several times over the last couple of years to get them to approve the resolution. “We’re just hoping we can gather some public support so they (board members) can see this is really something they should be prioritizing.” 

The petition had over 1,000 signatures as of mid-March from “students, parents, teachers and community members,” according to Curtis. “We’re also asking the community to call the Granite School Board and voice their support for clean energy.”

The Utah chapter of the Sierra Club is providing some logistical, messaging, and financial assistance to the Clean Energy Team.

Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said while the Clean Energy Team’s drive to put the district on a zero emissions and conservation path is laudable, it likely won’t happen as envisioned by the group and its supporters. 

“Our board doesn’t engage in the resolutions business,” Horsley said. “The goals outlined in the resolution are not attainable,” he added, referring to the 2030 timeline.

“We’ve been very honest with them about some of the things that are a little more feasible and some that are not.”

Energy-saving equipment has been installed at some schools, Horsley said, citing solar panels at newer facilities like South Kearns and Olene Walker elementary schools. The cost of doing the same at older schools usually doesn’t make financial sense. “We want to do what’s right by our taxpayers and be fiscally prudent while pursuing any and all energy-efficiency opportunities to the highest degree possible,” Horsley said, noting that the budget can cover only so many things while the district carries out its core mission of educating students. 

Neil Armstrong Academy is a STEM-focused elementary school in West Valley City. It opened in 2013 and its construction was able to include a geothermal heating and cooling system. It pulls heat from 200 to 300 feet below underground through a system of pipes to warm a building. “Even on the coldest winter day, the earth is going to have a substantially higher temperature than the air,” said Granite Assistant Superintendent of Support Services Don Adams.

The geothermal system can also send warm air on hot days back to the ground to help cool the building. Electric pumps circulate the air. Several other district schools use such energy where the geology allows.

That is one example of how the district is trying to reduce its environmental impact and cut energy costs. “The easiest way to not pollute, to use energy wisely, is to conserve,” Adams said. Motion and daylight sensors on lights, good insulation, and energy-efficient windows are also part of the mix.

Meanwhile, Curtis won’t stop trying to make a difference when her high school career ends in May. “I’m hoping to continue my passion for clean energy in college.” She wants to pursue environmental studies at the University of Utah or the University of Washington.