Even Students are Getting Solar Right

6. Cochrane High School.jpg

Even Students are Getting Solar Right

Tucked within Cochrane High School in Cochrane about a half-hour west of Calgary is the – the Sustainable Development Committee, a small volunteer club. Behind the bland name is an overachieving group of students that has raised more than $149,000 and built more than half a dozen renewable energy projects.

Teachers Stephanie Bennett and Earl Binder helped start the group in 2004. Since then, the committee has been responsible for installing three solar PV projects on the school roof, a micro-wind turbine, waste heat recovery and a solar thermal hot water system, and those are just the energy generation-related projects. They’ve installed a school garden fed with rainwater from the roof, LED lights, waterless urinals, dual flush toilets, motion activated lights, a solar-powered energy efficient scoreboard and have done a ton of outreach in the community and nearby schools.

Jay Heule is a Cochrane High grad and former sustainable development committee member. He’s now in his second year of engineering at the University of Calgary.

“Growing up in Cochrane with a bit more of a redneck kind of feeling in town it was a different outlook on how we could approach the environment with solutions for problems that we’re facing here in the 21st century,” he says.

It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for the sustainable development committee. When they decided to build a five-kilowatt, 18-metre high wind turbine on school property a vocal group of neighbours responded.

“There was a really loud group, it was called, ‘The No Turbines in Town Coalition,’ and they were in the newspaper, they were in the media and we really didn’t want to play that game so we just said, “Alright, we’ll go through the school board, we’ll jump through all the extra hoops,” says Adam Sibbald, another sustainable development committee alumni.

The students turned their attention from fundraising and project development to engaging in real-life politics. It’s a similar challenge renewable energy proponents have faced in other places – angry residents who don’t want development in their backyard and a leery local government.

They held three community consultation meetings learning how to do good public consultation after “getting shellacked” at the first one. The students applied to the town of Cochrane, which put the brakes on the project but decided it needed a clear framework to deal with energy projects in town.

While the student group ultimately failed in their effort to erect the turbine, the push from the students led the town of Cochrane to create its renewable energy framework. Any future renewable energy projects (including small wind) have a much clearer expectation of what they need to do in order to be approved.

Perhaps the most important part is on the human development side. The experience they’re getting in fundraising, communications, working as a team and with regulatory bodies is invaluable as they go to post-secondary and join the workforce.


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