Hi Umbra,

I’m the senior president for my high school class. My cabinet and I want to leave a “green” gift to the school. We would like it to be something that is on campus or easily visible. Can you recommend anything in the $10,000 to $15,000 price range or below? I go to a public school in Northern California, if that’s any help. I would appreciate a quick response; the end of the school year is quickly approaching! Thanks so much!

Doug Bojack
Burlingame, Calif.

Dearest Doug,

How about some nice shiny solar panels? Talk about on-campus and visible! They are definitely the gift that keeps on giving — although I’m not sure anyone would be able to read the plaque. If you have a big roof, the panels could spell out ’07.

Pomp, circumstance, and solar panels.

Photo(s): iStockphoto

Solar is what came to me when I read your question. It may not be a practical gift for your class, given that it is mid-April and your mind is mainly upon graduation, not upon kilowatt-hours, net metering, and carbon emissions, but I’m not sure what else is currently on your list. If you truly wish to give a “green” gift, reducing the school’s long-term carbon footprint is the best way to go.

California has been doing quite a bit with solar schools. There is a solar schools program with the California Energy Commission, Pacific Gas and Electric has been donating panels and curricula to schools in its service area, and I’m sure there’s more. Your state also has other programs to help schools become energy-efficient, such as Bright Schools, so perhaps you could assist in funding an energy audit or something. Other states also have solar projects in their schools; it’s not just enlightened Californians (oh — pun!). I’m sure you and other students who want to pursue this idea have parents in the community who could help put a project together financially, engineeringly, and physically. And yes, you could buy a solar array for $10,000 to $15,000; they come in all sizes.

Of course, as I hope you know, I’m really not the person you should be asking. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about your school, its environmental profile, whether it already installed solar during the recent California Energy Commission granting period, etc. You should ask the school administration — maybe you already have — or the board, or the facilities managers. What are their largest expenses as a facility, have they thought about reducing their costs/energy use, are there any small-capital projects on the wish list, could this money from the class be used as matching funds to raise additional funds from the community?

Here are a few other quick ideas, just in case my solar bee-in-bonnet is not quite right: use the money to set up a small scholarship program for graduating seniors who have shown commitment to the environment; start a fund to support buying local food for the cafeteria or plant a garden that will supply fresh greens; put the money toward reducing pollution from the diesel bus fleet; buy however many new, low-flow toilets you can afford; or pay to send all the groundskeepers to an integrated pest management seminar.

Whatever you do, I’m sure it will be appreciated. Congratulations, and good luck.

PVly,
Umbra