Lyme-Old Lyme schools looks to phase out fossil fuel use by 2030
Old Lyme — The Region 18 Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution this week seeking to phase out all fossil-fuel use at its schools throughout Lyme and Old Lyme by 2030.
The resolution is not a mandatory ruling for the board to follow, but rather a goal that will help drive decision-making regarding heating, electricity and transportation sources for the district over the next 10 years.
The district claims it is the first in the state to formally adopt such a goal. The idea for the resolution is based around concepts published by the Sierra Club, a national environmental organization that has been working to inspire school districts throughout the country to take on similar plans, Superintendent Ian Neviaser said by phone Friday.
“Internally, we’ve been continually looking at ways to be more energy efficient and more environmentally friendly, and we have significant interest from our student body and parents in doing that,” said Neviaser, who said he has been helping form the 10-year plan with a Board of Education sustainability subcommittee made up of board members, school staff, residents and students. “There really is an interest for taking this (idea) to the next level and meeting the standards for being carbon neutral within a 10-year time frame.”
Trying to attain the 10-year carbon-neutral goal, Neviaser said by phone this week, will not only financially benefit the district but expand educational opportunities for students and support global, national and state efforts to reduce carbon energy reliance.
Neviaser said while the district has been moving in the direction of reducing its carbon footprint for some years now, the plan materialized over recent months after the subcommittee overseeing it was formalized earlier this year.
The plan ties in with the district’s five-year capital plan to soon purchase new electric-dependent HVAC systems for the middle and elementary schools and lays out plans to pursue eco-friendly options for electric busing and to decrease the district’s reliance on fuel, as well as create more opportunities to use renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, to offset electricity costs.
In recent years, the district already has made strides in this direction, Neviaser said, explaining solar panels were installed on top of the roofs at the high, middle and Lyme Consolidated Elementary schools as part of a purchase-power agreement with Greenskies Renewable Energy. That agreement calls for the district to pay just 2 to 3 cents per kilowatt of electricity, compared to the approximate 6 cents it was paying prior to the installation, he said.
Besides pushing recycling initiatives within school, the district also has been converting to LED lighting in its buildings, insulating roofs, installing new windows and geo-thermal heating and cooling ventilation at the high school, and is beginning preliminary discussions with contracted school bus vendor M&J Bus about purchasing electric buses in the future. The school typically uses about 17 buses to transport students to and from school, Neviaser said. Education board members also recently passed a plan to purchase and install additional reusable water bottle fillers throughout school.
“Those are good examples of small things we can do to move things forward now,” Neviaser said, while explaining that over the long term, the district will begin to piece together ways to come off its reliance on fossil fuels in line with the 10-year goal.
According to a presentation made at the education board’s Wednesday meeting about the goal, sustainability subcommittee member Rebecca Waldo said the district relies almost entirely on fossil fuels to heat schools, provide electricity and fuel buses.
“Those are the biggest challenges we have in front of us to be carbon-neutral,” Neviaser said Friday. During the 2018-19 school year, the district spent $88,723 on diesel and $303,123 on heating oil, he said.
Though plans on how to overcome those larger challenges have not yet been outlined, he said that he and school board members are hopeful technology will evolve significantly over the next decade to allow these goals to become a possibility.
“We will wait for recommendations from the subcommittee over coming years,” Neviaser said. “For now, first steps are to look for the easiest ways to change and then we will tackle the bigger things.”