Students Spark the Largest Solar School Project in State

Climate change has galvanized student activists from Portland, Maine, who are raising their voices and speaking up for the future they want to see.

For students in Portland Public Schools, persistence and coalition building pay off — in real dollars. Following a two-year student campaign, the school board in August 2019 approved a 3,500 kW offsite solar project that will provide 60% to 80% of the district’s energy and save an estimated $50,000 in energy costs per year.


The story began in 2017 when students and staff at King Middle School proposed a solar installation at the school that required $65,000 in funding. It didn’t go well. The city questioned the costs and did not prioritize the project. However, the students didn’t quit. Instead, they made their effort bigger, combining the district’s three high schools into an organization called SolaRISE Portland. They marched in the streets, set up a Facebook page and raised money online. Soon they had $25,000 from local businesses and other donors. They used some of this money to hire CES Inc. to facilitate the RFP process. The city and school district collaborated to broaden the scope of the project. Now the city will offset two-thirds of its energy burden with solar.

“School systems work for children, for us. You teach us and empower us so we’re ready to face whatever comes our way,” said Siri Pierce, a student at Casco Bay High School. “And right now, combating the climate crisis is what is most important for our futures.”

Superintendent Xavier Botana stated at a school board meeting: “We talk about the value and importance of student voice all the time, and this is a perfect example of why it matters. These students are on their way to making significant and lasting change in this community and, I do not think it is hyperbolic to say, in the world.”


Last Updated: 9/19/2020

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