Creating Clean, Carbon-Free Classrooms in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City School District (SLCSD) operates 40 school facilities to serve more than 19,500 students. In 2020, students from three of those schools proposed a sustainability resolution to the SLCSD board. The SLCSD board immediately adopted the student resolution, using it as a driver to create a detailed Sustainability Action Plan to guide a path to the resolution’s two core tenets:

  • 100 percent of consumed electricity must by generated from renewable sources by 2030.
  • 100 percent of SLCSD operations must reach carbon-neutral status by 2040.
The Salt Lake City School District aims to decarbonize its built environment for the benefit of its students and communities.

SLCSD aimed to decarbonize its built environment for the benefit of its students and communities. The district hired McKinstry to create a phased action plan to ensure decarbonization success with certainty. The path forward leveraged a mostly budget-neutral energy savings performance contract (ESPC) using anticipated energy cost savings to offset retrofit costs.

Phase one included LED fixtures and lighting control retrofits at all district buildings, upgraded domestic water fixtures to reduce consumption, the electrification of two elementary schools, the installation of 1MW of solar power at six schools and comprehensive building control optimization.

The solar installation creates clean electricity as part of the district’s efforts to electrify and decarbonization its energy sources. In total, 2,500 solar panels were installed at six schools, reaching the aforementioned 1MW of solar capacity. Schools with newer roofs were chosen to ensure maximum lifetime of the panels, while avoiding costs associated with unnecessary roof updates and replacements.

As a result of these retrofits, SLCSD reduced energy consumption and carbon emissions while simultaneously improving learning environments for its students with improved lighting, ventilation, and other environmental upgrades.

“Our starting point in 2018 was 32,000 tons of carbon dioxide. That was our baseline footprint, and we estimate that the measures implemented to date will get us a 25 percent reduction—or 8,000 tons of C02,” says Greg Libecci, energy and sustainability program manager for SLCSD. “That’s equivalent to 300,000 mature trees or taking 2,000 cars off the road.”

McKinstry is honored to partner with the district on its Sustainability Action Plan project to help fulfill its vision of creating some of the healthiest and most productive learning environments for students and staff in the country. These initial accomplishments are an impressive step forward in meeting the district’s 2030 and 2040 goals. 

About the Author

Jeff Hughes
Jeff Hughes is national renewable energy director for McKinstry, an engineering consultant seeking to innovate the waste and climate harm out of the built environment.

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