London, Ont., high school first in Canada to become carbon neutral

An east London high school is now Canada’s first self-sufficient, carbon neutral school.

Carport solar panels reduce school’s greenhouse gas emissions to near zero

From left to right: John Paul II Secondary School students Ian Balana, Tara O'shea, Sarah Bedor, Adrianne O'Neil and principal Peter Cassidy. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

A school in London, Ont. is now Canada's first self-sufficient, carbon neutral high school drawing on solar and geothermal power to run the facility. 

The $9.7 million project saw 2,700 carport solar panels installed throughout the parking lots of John Paul II Secondary School. They provide 825 kWDC of power to a battery system that will heat, cool and provide electricity. 

The improvements reduce greenhouse gas emissions to near zero, and remove almost 277 tons of carbon every year. 

The London Catholic District School Board held a ribbon-cutting ceremony outside the school on Tuesday to celebrate. It funded more than half of the project with the federal and provincial governments contributing $4.8 million. 

"It's a great learning opportunity for our students, as well as an introduction to carbon reduction generally," said principal Peter Cassidy. "These students have been very interested over time about how the project was proceeding, and I think they're even more interested in what the potential is after the project's over." 

The project also includes: 

  • Piping for a geothermal heating and cooling system
  • A 2.2 MWh electrical energy storage system 
  • Four upcoming electric vehicle charging stations 
Carport solar panels provide 825 kWDC of power to a battery system that heats, cools and provides electricity to school. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

Renewables company Ameresco started retrofitting for the project in 2019, but completion was delayed several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Jim Fonger, vice president of asset and advanced technologies for Ameresco, said that John Paul II is now the prototype for future projects. Plans for a second carbon neutral school are now in the works with a school board in Sudbury, Ont. 

"It's the kids that are in the school that are going to be our leaders in the mid 2030s," said Fonger. "They're going to have to take us that final mile to zero carbon by 2050. This is the time to be able to demonstrate to students that this is possible and it can be done." 

Student Sarah Bedor, centre, cuts the ribbon to mark the completion of John Paul II Secondary School's transformation into the country's first carbon neutral school. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

Grade 13 student Sarah Bedor was a member of John Paul II's ECOSchool Team when the project was first announced.

As it developed, she helped to educate her peers on the importance of going carbon neutral. 

"I've watched as the world has slowly deteriorated and I want so desperately to be part of something that I know will cause good change," said Bedor. 

Grade 12 student Ian Balana said it's critical that youth do their part in saving the environment. 

"I believe that it's very important to be part of this project in order to help the other generations in the future, and also to help our Mother Earth who is suffering right now," he said. "It's very important that we show our love for the environment and take care of it. Because in the future, we will reap the rewards."


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