It started when they found out their beautiful new school was consuming energy like crazy – close to 2.5 million kilowatt-hours per year.
The students at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport knew that their facilities director had tried taking some energy-efficient measures, such as installing motion detectors for lights, that dropped energy usage substantially. But it wasn’t enough. So they started exploring solutions on their own through a school club that meets every Thursday.
In just the past few years, the students have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase and install a giant wind turbine on school property and solar panels on the roof. They call themselves the Camden Windplanners – a play on the school mascot, the Camden Windjammers – and they are this year’s recipients of the Scions Award.
The Windplanners is not your typical school club. The students research energy solutions, make connections with energy experts and town officials, testify at public hearings, and follow through on projects that make a real difference to their school and the community. Instead of partying all weekend, you might find these students working to get in a grant application on deadline.
Margo Murphy, one of the club’s advisers, says their interest is personal as well as political.
“I think it’s what kids wish school was like all the time. Kids want a voice,” Murphy said. “They want to be a part of solutions. They’re able to engage in real stuff that has real results, and that’s highly motivating.”
Case in point, senior Emily Quinn, who likes the fact that the Windplanners’ projects are not “just a theoretical thing.”
“It became very tangible,” the senior said. “Seeing the solar panels go up on our school roof, it really meant that anybody can do what we were trying to accomplish.”
Nearly 50 students are members of the club, with about 30 actively involved.
After raising $500,000 to purchase and install a wind turbine (which now provides 10 percent of the school’s power), they moved on to solar panels for the school roof. It’s another $500,000 project that comes with an agreement allowing the school to purchase the power generated by the panels for a fixed price. After seven years, the school can buy the panels from the local business that owns them for $170,000. The students are now fundraising for that project and for an energy monitoring system.
“That’s a really good indicator of the passion behind a lot of these core members of Windplanners,” said Aidan Acosta, a senior who joined the club the year after the wind turbine was installed. “The amount of grant writing that went along with getting that wind turbine was crazy. Taxpayers didn’t pay for that windmill. This was very student driven.”
Acosta is passionate about the outdoors. He saw the club as an outlet to pursue his interests and “look forward beyond our generation.” Working on the solar project, Acosta found himself learning a lot about policy. He helped present the idea to the local school board. Windplanners also sat in on meetings between ReVision Energy – which helped structure the solar agreement (and, it so happens, is also a Source Award winner this year) – and the school.
The club’s big project this year is bringing composting to the school cafeteria. Though it sounds less daunting than buying a wind turbine or solar array, the students have discovered that educating other students and school staff is no small task: some students don’t buy into the project; others are, intentionally or not, throwing plastic forks and the like into the compost bins. “…we’re having a lot of difficulty because we’re trying to promote behavior change,” Acosta said.
Over time, Murphy, the adviser, has seen some Windplanners grow into leadership roles. Eventually, many follow career paths that began in the Camden Windplanners and end up studying environmental engineering in college, or working in public policy or for an environmental organization.
Acosta, for one, is interested in exploring a career with renewable energy companies. Other current high schoolers aren’t yet sure which career path they’ll follow, but they do plan to remain activists on some level.
Annie James, a senior who joined the group her sophomore year, says she’ll be happy just “walking through this world knowing that I am a conscious citizen.”