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Former West Green Club members Charles Hua, left, Grace Upham, Kari Weiss and Nyah Banik, worked to get the MMSD to get 100 solar panels installed on the roof of West High School, which helped kickstart efforts to get the district to commit to 100 percent renewable energy. 

The Madison Metropolitan School District plans to rely solely on renewable energy by 2040, according to a resolution adopted at Monday night’s School Board meeting.

The nonbinding resolution calls for half of the district’s energy needs to be met using renewable energy by 2030 before increasing to 75 percent by 2035 and then 100 percent in 2040. It also calls on MMSD to implement energy efficiency and renewable energy sources into the district’s facility planning.

The resolution’s adoption is the culmination of months of activism from students, parents, community members and the group 100% Renew Madison, who wanted the school district to make renewable energy pledges similar to Madison, Middleton, Fitchburg and other local municipalities. Organizers of the campaign to get the energy resolution passed said MMSD is the largest school district in the country to have made such a pledge.

“A lot of times, school districts haven’t (implemented renewable energy plans) because they’re seen as educational institutions, and not institutions of clean energy,” Charles Hua said in an interview. Hua is a 2018 West High School graduate whose work last year to get his school to install solar panels helped kickstart the effort for getting MMSD to make the resolution. “But I think it’s important to unpack that narrative because climate change is an issue that disproportionately affects youth, so schools are a big part of that.”

Hua, who is currently a freshman at Harvard College, plans to work as an intern this summer in the city of Madison’s engineering division to help implement renewable energy at the municipal level. He said that work will likely include collaborating with Madison’s schools.

Hua’s work with West’s Green Club raised $100,000 to install solar panels at the school. The club was able to partner with other environmentally focused organizations to help gather signatures for a petition and speak out at board meetings prior to Monday night’s resolution passage.

Getting a clause about green energy in facilities planning is especially timely as MMSD eyes a facilities referendum likely focused on the city’s four conventional high schools for the November 2020 ballot.

Though the resolution passed on Monday is nonbinding, organizers said they still plan to push MMSD to take steps to meet the stated energy goals.

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“It’s really important and critical for community members, students and parents to continue paying attention and pushing for implementation to make sure it gets done,” said Heather Driscoll, an organizer with the group Wisconsin Beyond Coal. “Hopefully, this work will inspire other districts to make commitments as well.”

Hua said several current board members expressed an interest in making sure the district met its energy goals.

Many Madison area students have pushed for action on climate change this past school year. In March, hundreds of students walked out of classes and marched to the state Capitol as part of the international Youth Climate Strike.

“There’s a lot of youth energy in organizing and campaigns, and I don’t think it’s just idealism,” Hua said. “There’s a sense of pragmatism involved here as well.” 

Education Reporter

Negassi Tesfamichael is the local education reporter at The Cap Times. He joined the paper in 2018. He previously worked as an intern at WISC-TV/Channel3000.com and at POLITICO.