Highlighted Energy and Climate Action Stories

Have an idea for an energy/climate action project you want to do? Sign up to work with us through Energy Action Project Institute (for teachers only), Youth/Adult Energy Action, or Youth Climate Leaders Academy.

  • Transportation Projects

    School Drop off Infrastructure Changes

    It's tough to walk or bike — or even carpool — to school when the street outside becomes congested with vehicles at drop-off and pick-up time and the cars that aren't idling are driving too fast. Sixth-graders at Christ the King School in Rutland, VT, took matters into their own hands in the 2017-18 school year, with help from VEEP educator Laura MacLachlan.

    The 6th grader students observed and documented issues with the drop-off location, then redesigned the intersection with help from Local Motion, the statewide bike and pedestrian advocacy organization. After the team of youth leaders presented their plan to the town's traffic safety committee, the Rutland Department of Public Works gave them permission to temporarily change the traffic trouble spots with curb extensions and asphalt painting in a “pop-up” traffic safety project. Students also installed a new bike rack.

    Testing out the solutions

    The “pop-up” transportation safety pilot was installed in August 2018, and left in place for 10 days. During that time, the students worked with the Rutland Regional Planning Commission to collect data on traffic volume and traffic changes. In spring  of 2019, the student group is working on a school travel plan, recruiting members for the new "safety patrol," and presented with Local Motion at the Safe Routes to School conference as well as sharing their story:

    Timeline and Steps:

    Spring 2019 - presentation to 6th graders on Safety Patrol to be debuted in Fall 2019

    Presentation to Safe Routes to School Annual Conference

    Presentation to Rutland Regional Planning Commission - Transportation Board

    2019-2020

    Fall 2019 - VECAN presentations (Success story, VECAN panel)

     

    Transportation Efficiency and Renewably

    In early winter of 2020, members of the Green Team and their teacher partners held a mini-retreat with the assistance of VEEP staff. Through facilitated discussions, the group chose to focus on reducing the carbon emission of the U-32 community in their school related movements. Their plan was both more immediate with goals for the year, as well as larger, longer term goals of changing both mindsets and infrastructure. The group succeeded in collecting a large data set from a well crafted and responded to transportation survey. With this data they are hoping to be able to identify the largest barriers to reducing carbon emissions, as well as opportunities for change. The project was paused in the spring, just after the data was collected. Stay tuned to see what they come up with... 

    Project Steps Taken: 

    1) Meet with VEEP to organize a mini retreat for project planning in the VEEP office

    2) Based on statewide emissions data, decide to focus on transportation

    3) Decide on two goals: increase bus riding and carpooling in the shorter term, and start to plan for electrifying transportation for the future

    4) Create a transportation survey for U-32 community to determine transportation choices and reasoning

    5) Disseminate online survey widely with in person school-wide reminders by homeroom

    6) Compile data and begin to analyze...next steps planned post COVID-19 restrictions…

  • Education Projects 

    Energy Education Student Mentors

    A group of Burke Town School eighth-graders decided they wanted to bring awareness to their school and community about energy, how energy use impacts the climate, and choices that individuals could make. They started an Energy Committee for their school in the rural Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. As part of their planning process, they reached out to VEEP with a bunch of great ideas. Throughout the spring 2018 semester, they worked VEEP’s northeastern educator, who supported the youth led team in developing an actionable SMART goal for their project. They then worked through the remainder of the semester on teaching their younger peers about energy, supported by VEEP lessons and equipment.  

    Project Steps Taken: 

    1) Project start date: January. The students’ goal had two main components: 

    a. To grow interest and members for their energy committee, and 

    b. To educate their school community about energy choices

    2) The group began with component b.They wanted to bring energy science lessons directly to other classes in their school 

    3)  The group was trained to lead VEEP lessons for grades K-4 (February)

    4) They borrowed equipment from VEEP and participated in a one-day training session with a VEEP educator to how to lead the lessons

    5) They reached out to the K-4 teachers and asked if they could bring the lesson to their classes (February)

    6) They joined with the K-4 classes and lead the VEEP lessons (the first lesson was assisted by the VEEP educator - the rest were lead independently by the group) (March-May)

    7) Teachers of the K-2 classes gave feedback to the group 

    8) The group hoped to recruit rising 8th graders to participate in the energy committee and continue this work after they left the school (June)

  • Renewable Energy Projects 

    Community Planning for Renewable Energy

    In Fall of 2019, a Burr & Burton Academy student decided to try to make a change in the future of renewable energy in the school’s community. The student attended VEEP/NHEEP’s Youth Climate Leaders Academy and started to make a plan. She researched energy policy in Vermont and elsewhere, helped to organize the Youth Climate Congress, and decided to take this back to the local level and the town’s planning committee. She began attending planning committee meetings, and starting to push the committee to start to plan for how and where they could incorporate renewable energy into the town’s future plans. She consulted with VEEP staff and used the Vermont Energy Atlas to map out potential solar and wind sites in the community, and brought this to the committee with the question of “How will our town meet the state’s energy goals of 90% Renewable by 2050?” 

    Project Steps Taken

    1) Come up with an idea and bring it to the Youth Climate Leaders Academy to clarify goals, action plan, planning time and consultation (November). Decided on goal of “How can I help push the local to plan for renewable energy.”

    2) Research energy policy in Vermont and elsewhere (October-January)

    3) Identify allies and gain invitation to attend planning committee meetings (February-March)

    4) Present general project idea and begin to research site feasibility in the area 

    5) Consult with VEEP staff and use Vermont Energy Atlas to make a map of potential renewable energy sites within the village

    6) Share findings with the committee

    (April-Project goes on hold due to Covid-19

    Wind Energy Feasibility and Off-grid Solar Installation

    A 7th grader student at Essex Middle School wanted to supplement the school's rooftop solar array with a smaller scale renewable energy generator that students could see and interact with. With the help of VEEP educator Mariah Keagy, the 7th grader student embarked on a feasibility study into small scale wind energy. He learned how wind generation worked using VEEP's mini wind generators, and used data available from Vermont's Energy Atlas to map whether the site was suitable for wind. The student and Mariah then waded through small scale wind siting requirements in a final assessment.

    While the conclusion wasn't favorable for wind power, the 7th grader persevered and decided on a small solar installation to offset the energy use of the school's sugarhouse. Mariah brought tools to help the student measure the electrical load of the sugarhouse and figure out placement to optimize solar energy.

    Project Steps Taken

    1) Identify project goal: To look at the feasibility of installing wind powered electrical generation on the middle school property for both generation and educational purposes. 

    2) Learn more about how electricity is generated using the wind by borrowing VEEP’s wind generators, research, and discussion with VEEP educator. 

    3) Look on the Vermont Community Energy Dashboard’s Energy Atlas to see how much wind energy is available for the site.

    4) Begin to look at designs and costs for installation (online research)

    5) Download and review the wind siting guidelines for Vermont (with VEEP educator support)

    6) Conclude that due to the wind mapping and difficulty of siting, wind energy is not the most viable renewable energy option at this time.

    7) Assess other renewable energy options

    8) Decide that although the school already has solar panels, there is not opportunity for interaction or education with them (the software for the online data display was not going to be updated) and new goal: install solar panels on school’s sugar shack to both offset energy used by the shack (primarily lighting) and to provide an educational opportunity for students with solar panels they could see and interact with…

    Steps for Solar Panel Project

    1) Figure out how much electricity is used by the sugar shack with the loan of a killawatt meter (from VEEP)

    2) Look at the cost of the panel, battery etc. to transition to off-grid solar power

    3)  Test to make sure there was enough sunlight on site using one of VEEP’s Solar Site Assessment Kits and then conclude the site is viable

    4) Work with school decision makers for permission

    5) Compile findings and apply for funding for installation

  • Electricity Saving Projects 

    Electricity Savings Through Behavior Changes

    After a unit on Energy and Climate in a combined 7th/8th grade science class (a product of a PD partnership and supported by VEEP), the 7th and 8th graders decided they wanted to reduce how much electricity their school used by the end of the school year.

     

    They set their goal of reduction to 10% of their current use, and acquired their school’s energy bills to see what those numbers would be.  They then split up into teams to tackle the various tasks of figuring out where all their electricity was going and how to change it. They looked at lighting and how it was used, computer cart charging, and all the things that were plugging in all over the school. They borrowed kilowatt meters from VEEP, and worked to figure out plans for reducing usage. They realized they didn’t have money to invest in buying more efficient things, so they had to figure out how to convince the school to learn to use less if they wanted to meet their goal. They did a school wide assembly, specialized for different grades (It’s a k-8th grade school), and then also went around to classes and taught them about why and how they could save electricity. 

    By the end of the school year they hosted a school wide celebration for their efforts, and after looking at the data, realized they had reduced their school’s electricity use by 18%. In order to visualize the savings, they linked hands with rope and formed a space equivalent to the volume of the carbon dioxide they had prevented from being released due to their actions. 

    Project Steps Taken

    1) Work with VEEP to procure school wide electrical usage data

    2) Identify the main uses of electricity in the school that could be reduced by a change in behavior 

    3) Break up in committees to collect data on a specific use, then create an action plan on how to reduce the usage

    4) Plans were implemented and behavior change education happened in all classes in the one building k-8 school

    5) Data was collected after a three month period of plan implementation

    6) Students gathered to celebrate an 18% reduction in school-wide electricity usage

    Electricity Savings Through Building Systems Sleuthing

    A group of students and teachers at Twinfield Union School were studying electricity and were curious about their school’s energy use. They looked at the school’s electricity use and bills and noticed that the school seemed to be using a lot more electricity than they thought it should, at times when it should be using less (like school vacations.)

    A group of nine students, plus teachers, facility staff, school electrician, and outside energy experts met during an evening in February  to see what we could learn. The group included: representatives from the town energy committee, an Efficiency Vermont School Energy Specialist, Norm Etkind of the School Energy Management Program (veteran school auditor, over 300 VT schools, and Andy Shapiro, energy consultant and Vermont Energy Education Program energy engineer

    The school used an “e-gauge” electric measuring device showing energy usage in the school in real time. This data was displayed on a screen, showing school electricity use in real time, and its use explained by Andy Shapiro and Rich Phillips.

    What We Found 
    We found that the building never “rests” and that:

    1) The computer lab needs to be more deeply slept at night. We measured the computers in the lab running at 500 watts. These can be completely turned off at night. (This does not include the server.)


    2) Energy saving opportunities were found in the kitchen, including:
    a) the steam generator for the steam kettle and pressure cooker was on, spiking about 3 kilowatts (kW). This can be turned off at night.
    b) the kitchen hood fan was running. This can be turned off at night
    c) the milk cooler where students take milk was on with nothing in it. It could be turned off at night and on in the morning.
    d) The booster heater for the dishwasher is a major user and appears to be spiking on near midnight at a colossal 40 to 45 kW. This can be turned off at night, but the larger issue is re-piping the new gas water heater so that it can be set to circulate 180F water to the dishwasher with a mixing valve for other uses to deliver safe temperature hot water to the faucets it serves. An alternate is to get a new dishwasher that uses chemical rinse to avoid the need for the booster heater. 
    e) The ice cream freezer had frost on it, reducing efficiency — minor issue.


    3)The seven bus heaters use a lot of electricity, about 1.5 kW each. These do not need to be on at night and can be controlled with timers to only heat the bus the required few hours before they are used.


    4) Outdoor lights are on at night and could be turned off. Some schools and others report less vandalism with no lights.

    5) Some classrooms could be further shut down regarding electricity — computers are left on, etc. This needs further research by student teams. 

    6) Motor power draw was measured earlier and found to run about 11 or 12 kW at night. Many bathroom and other exhaust fans run all the time and can be turned off on a schedule or more efficiently with occupancy sensors in the rooms they serve.

    7) Cabinet heater fans are running all night. These could be cycled with a thermostat at a lower setting. While drying floor matts is important, the current energy use could be reduced. This would save on heating also. The vestibule was very warm.

    8)Room 304 was about 80 degrees. It appears the thermostat was set that high. Are there other hot rooms?

    This investigation allowed the school to pinpoint specific energy savings measures through simply turning off more at night, and identifying larger efficiency projects  to make them part of the long and short term building improvement plans. 

    Lighting Analysis

    A group of science students in Irasburg noticed that the lighting in their school was uncomfortable to their eyes in many classrooms and decided to investigate the lighting levels to see if they were too high and if some energy could be saved through changing the lighting levels. To figure this out, they got a hold of VEEP and borrowed light and killawatt meters. They collected data and shared it with their VEEP educator, who then connected them with a lighting consultant at Efficiency Vermont to further analyze the data. It was concluded that the lighting levels were indeed too high and that substantial changes could be made to save energy, environmental impacts and make the school more comfortable. The students shared their findings and conclusions with the school board, who thanked the students for bringing the issue to their attention and planned to perform a professional lighting audit to identify the best retrofits for the school. 

    Steps the students took and shared in this project:

    1) First, when preparing for the Light Audit, we made a list of all the rooms in the school and divided them up between groups in our class.

    2) Then, all the groups went to the rooms that were assigned to them and they recorded all the data that was needed.

    3) It included: Square footage of the room, Natural Lux and Artificial Lux, transferred Lux into Footcandles, Number of Bulbs, Watts, KWH per day, the required foot candles-that is needed for your eyes-depending on what kind of room it was, required by the VEEP playbook and the IESNA Lighting Handbook and then we determined if the room was overlit or underlit.

    4) The groups also made drawings of the room. It was a drawing of the length and width of the room, where the windows and doors are and had the boxes on the ceiling that contained two fluorescent tubes to light the room.

    5) When we had all our data, we made charts so it was easier to read and understand.

    6) Last we gathered some more information on what it would cost to upgrade to LED, to save money, and how much the school spends on electricity from lighting.

    Weatherization

    The combined 6th-8th grade science classes at Albany Community School were studying heat transfer and borrowed equipment to learn more about how heat transfers in buildings. They learned about conduction and insulation and became curious about the huge icicles that formed on the roof of one part of their school in the winter. Armed with some borrowed Infrared Cameras they started to investigate their school to look for places that looked cold on the camera, where heat was leaking outside more quickly. They were able to see that the weatherstripping needed to be replaced around doors to the outside and took part in the upgrades to that. They wanted to go further and were able to look in the attic in the area above the icicles. They found that the insulation in place was not rated high enough for the climate, and that it looked compressed or there were gaps. They passed this information along to the decision makers in the school and were able to allow them to make informed decisions about heat energy and money savings in a small school with a small budget. 

    Project Steps Taken

    1) Learn about heat transfer and insulation (working with VEEP educator)

    2) Borrow IR Cameras from VEEP 

    3) Use cameras to identify areas that are a different temperature than expected in their school (during the winter)

    4) Noticed hot air leaks in roof and doors to the outside

    5) Helped with the easier and less expensive improvements (weatherstripping doors.)

    6) Made recommendations to school decision makers about attic insulation needs, with the hopes that it could be included in the next year’s building maintenance budget

  • Other Climate Projects 

    School Wide Single-Use Container and Utensil Elimination

    The Green Team at U-32 noticed a huge amount of single-use utensils and containers being thrown away in their cafeteria. They joined VEEP’s Youth Climate Leaders Academy and decided to change this. Over two years they worked with food service staff to first eliminate disposable utensils. To eliminate concerns about reusable utensils being thrown away and needing to be replaced, the Green Team researched and purchased magnetic strips for the trash cans that collect any accidentally disposed of metal eating utensils. 

    After this successful project, the following year the food service staff and Green Team joined forces to create a plan to eliminate single use containers for dining in and out from the cafeteria. Reasons cited for the project included both the environmental impacts of waste in general, as well as the cost savings of purchasing disposable materials out of already tight food service budgets. They created a plan that included education for the school community, as well as identifying grant funded purchases (such as reusable bowls) that would help make the transition. They consulted with both VEEP staff as well as their regional Solid Waste education support person for both grants and project planning.

    Turning Parking into a Food Forest

    A group of high school students noticed they have a large grassy overflow parking lot that is not used. They identified that not only does grass not sequester carbon, but that it is also mowed regularly using gas-powered mowers. Members of the Earth Group attended the Youth Climate Leaders Academy in 2019 with a project idea of turning this area into a “Food Forest” where bushes and trees that produce food and sequester carbon would take the place of the mowed parking area. They consulted with food systems specialists, and began the political process of approval for the project both by the school and the community. The project was stalled due to Covid-19, but will continue into 2020.

    Climate Change Advocacy in the State House

    Members from the Youth Lobby attend the Youth Climate Leaders Academy each year to gain skills, make connections, and work on planning out their actions for the coming year. In 2019 a group decided to focus on planning out the first Youth Climate Congress, from which emerged a Youth Climate Declaration. These students attended committee meetings, giving testimony and delivering a copy of the declaration urging appropriate climate action on the state level. Youth Lobby will continue their advocacy work, with the support of VEEP, into 2020/21.