Join this webinar to better understand the basics of Energy Savings Performance Contracting, or ESPC. This foundational training covers how state and local governments can facilitate energy efficiency investments through ESPC, and how facility managers can use ESPC to enhance their facility’s energy performance. Whether you are a stakeholder from a state or local government, university, K-12 school, or hospital, this webinar can help you become ESPC-ready.
This webinar is based on the Foundations of ESPC training offered by the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) and the Energy Services Coalition as part of the DOE-NASEO Return-to-Work Initiative.
Stanford University announced that it has issued $375 million in bonds with dual climate and sustainability designations, marking a first for U.S. higher education institutions. Proceeds from the offering will be used to finance campus construction and renovation projects.
Undergraduates often find research opportunities through university labs and government programmes. The experience can boost their confidence and develop their interest in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But when the COVID-19 pandemic started, many of these programmes were cancelled, and others restricted the number of participants.
Students adapted by seeking out opportunities through university alumni networks or conducting scientific projects at home. Nature asked five undergraduates about their experiences of doing research as competition for places increased during the pandemic, and about their advice for other early-career scientists.
The largest geothermal energy system implemented at the university so far went online in April, at the Campus Instructional Facility (CIF) ahead of its opening this coming fall. The CIF system is the fifth geothermal installation at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and can provide 135 tons of heating and/or cooling, twice as much as the next most recent geothermal installation on campus property.
Located at the southeast corner of Springfield Avenue and Wright Street in Urbana, the $75M CIF is a state-of-the-art 122,000 gross square foot facility that will support The Grainger College of Engineering’s transformative learning and teaching environments. The geothermal system comprises 40 vertical borehole exchange loops in the adjacent Bardeen Quadrangle and has enough capacity to handle the energy needed for approximately 30 American homes.
After taking part in hands-on STEM lab experiments as part of a youth science program I coordinate, Latino and Black students were more likely to picture scientists as people who look like them – and not stereotypical white men in lab coats.
The Young Scientists Program at the Joint Educational Project of the University of Southern California offers specialized science, technology, engineering and math instruction in local elementary schools that have mostly Latino and Black students – two groups long underrepresented in STEM fields. My colleagues and I recruit undergrad and graduate STEM majors to teach lab experiments at seven schools in Los Angeles. About 2,400 students in grades two to five receive 20 hours of instruction each year. Over 80% of the students are Latino, and about 13% are African American.
We wanted to get a sense of whether the program increases the kids’ interest in science, as well as whether it changes how they view scientists. To do so, we used an evaluation tool based on the Draw-A-Scientist-Test created by educational researcher David Wade Chambers in 1983 which assessed kids’ preconceived notions of what scientists look like. Researchers later developed a checklist for the drawings that includes certain characteristics like gender, age, race and being in a laboratory.
When our program began collecting drawings of scientists from its participating students in 2015, 90% of the pictures were of white men in lab coats, often looking like Albert Einstein. About 10% of the students did not know what a scientist is or does. This was demonstrated by students who wrote “I don’t know” or drew question marks on their drawings.
The drawings have become more diverse over time, which we attribute to a gamut of reasons including hiring more diverse teaching staff and incorporating more examples of scientists of color into our programming.
In fall of 2019, before beginning the yearlong program, we asked the kids to draw a picture of a scientist. Just under 40% drew white female scientists, 6% drew scientists of color – either men or women – and 6% drew themselves as a scientist. Almost half of them, 48%, depicted scientists as either white men or cartoon characters. After completing the program, the kids were asked to draw a picture of a scientist again. This time, 37% of them drew white women, 10% drew scientists of color and 9% drew themselves. Only 44% drew white men or cartoon characters.
These increases in students who drew themselves or scientists of color, though perhaps seemingly small, are significant. They demonstrate that the students are developing and internalizing an identity of becoming a scientist.
Why it matters
Black workers make up only 9% of the STEM workforce, and Latino workers represent 8%, though they are roughly 13% and 19% of the U.S. population, respectively. Similarly, Black and Latino undergrad and graduate students are less likely to earn STEM degrees than white and Asian students.
We hope that students who finish the Young Scientists Program continue to pursue STEM and go on to become scientists themselves. However, that data is not available, and we are unable to track the graduates. We do have one former participant and four other community students who are STEM majors who are now on staff and teaching science in the community where they grew up. This epitomizes the goal of our program.
To change students’ preconceived notions of scientists as being white and male, it’s important they experience diverse science teachers, are taught about scientists of color in history and see diverse characters in science-related children’s books. Its our hope to see more of the students in our program drawing scientists of color or themselves as scientists in future drawings.
To back that up, the Blackwell Consolidated Independent School District provides a postsecondary scholarship of up to US$36,000 for graduates from the district’s single high school. So far 140 students have benefited from scholarships, according to Gott.
The money that makes this possible came from a $35 million deal the school district brokered with a wind farm company in 2005, part of the massive growth of that sector in Nolan County and Texas.
Nolan County – one of three counties served by the school district – is home to 1,371 wind turbines that generate a maximum of 2,097 megawatts, or enough to power half a million Texas homes per year. That includes the 585-megawatt Sweetwater Wind Farm and the 735-megawatt Horse Hollow project, which was the largest in the world when it came online in 2006.
Over the past 25 years wind energy has blossomed in the United States, rising from less than 2 gigawatts of capacity in 1995 to over 110 GW last year, enough to meet more than 7% of the entire nation’s electricity supply. It provides more than 10% of supply in 14 states, and more than 40% in two of those states — Iowa and Kansas.
By 2020, there were over 1,600 commercial wind installations made up of almost 68,000 individual turbines. The industry is continuing to grow rapidly, with another 200 gigawatts of projects applying for grid connections as of the end of 2020.
That is no doubt welcome revenue for school districts in rural areas, which sometimes struggle to generate local tax revenue. But as researchers we wanted to know: How are school districts using wind farm revenues? And is this money helping boost student achievement?
To find out, we collected data on new U.S. wind installations from 1995 through 2017 and tax revenue trends in school districts. We then checked to see if new wind farms led to significant changes in school budgets and how school districts spent their money, such as on things like new buildings, hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes, or boosting teacher salaries.
Numerous studies have shown that smaller class sizes result in better student achievement. So why are districts putting new tax revenues into capital spending rather than class size reduction?
We think it is due to state school finance formulas and state- and county-level tax laws, and the incentives they provide to school administrators.
As wind grew it expanded from only 16 school districts in 1995 to 900 districts spread across 38 states in 2016. Leading the pack are rural areas of the West, the Midwest and Texas.
The amount of tax revenue a school district gets from a wind energy installation depends on state and local laws and how those laws interact with state school finance formulas.
States use a wide variety of approaches to tax wind farms, ranging from normal property tax treatment to full exemptions. Sometimes wind farms make “payments in lieu of taxes,” known as PILOTs.
Kansas, for example, exempts wind projects from property taxes for the first 10 years. Some wind companies make PILOT payments to hosting counties, but individual school districts are often left out of those deals. Wyoming has a centralized system of school finance, so any revenue generated from wind projects is captured entirely by the state and redistributed to schools following a formula.
Texas, the No. 1 wind energy state, has a complicated system of local taxation of wind farms. Because of the state’s school finance system, much of the additional property tax revenue generated by wind installations can be captured by the state.
Texas uses a formula to take money from school districts with high property tax revenues per pupil and give it to poorer districts.
But that does not apply to local property tax revenue dedicated to paying off debt in Texas. So school districts have a strong incentive to borrow money by selling bonds to pay for capital improvements, then use revenues from the wind farms to pay off the bonds.
As a result, school districts in Texas tend to put wind tax revenues into buildings and facilities, rather than into teachers and operations. For example, the Blackwell school district, in addition to its scholarship fund, has spent $15 million for a new football stadium and academic complex.
Impact on school finances
The growth in wind energy development over time and across the country provides an ideal setting to examine how wind energy – or really any outside boost in funding – can impact school district finances and, in turn, student performance.
Our sample included 638 school districts that had a wind energy installation at some point between 1995 and 2017. Not surprisingly, these “wind districts” tend to be smaller and more rural than the average school district.
We found that new wind farms result in large increases in the amount of local revenue that is brought in per student, with only small reductions in state aid. We also found large boosts in per-pupil expenditures. Texas, especially, collected and spent more than other states.
But we found that most of those new expenditures were used for building improvements or new facilities rather than operating or “current” expenses. District spending on buildings went up by as much as 73%, while operating expenditures increased only slightly, by about 2%.
Formulas at play
This allocation of funds seems to be driven in part by the formulas that states use to provide aid to local school districts. States typically reduce the amount of funds they send to a district that sees an increase in local tax revenues, in order to equalize spending.
In some cases, though, that applies only when a district spends more on day-to-day operations, not when it boosts building improvements or new construction. So to avoid losing state aid, districts are more likely to use any new local revenues from wind farms for new buildings or repairs than for operating expenses.
This is exactly what we saw in our study. While school facilities and equipment no doubt improved, new wind farm revenues resulted in little to no change in class sizes or teacher salaries. In line with past research that shows better lower student-to-teacher ratios are clearly connected to student achievement, we found little change in student outcomes.
So while new development from wind energy can significantly boost rural economies and tax revenues, decisions on how the money is used are still made within the constraints of local school finance policy and law.
The NOAA Climate Program Office and The Wild Center’s Youth Climate Program are hosting a virtual summer institute for climate change education. The event will include networking with a national audience, as well as one full day dedicated to working, planning, and learning with regional cohorts. On-screen time will be segmented, with the opportunity to choose which sessions you would like to attend.