Central students lead solar panel and sustainability discussion



Naperville City Council candidate Ashley South (center) discusses sustainability at a panel discussion hosted by Naperville Central students.

C.J. Getting, Staff Writer

Seven Peace and Conflict Studies students at Central led a discussion on solar panels and sustainability with candidates for mayor and for the Naperville City Council on March 22.

Seniors Eli Hinger and Claire Yung alternated asking questions to panel members for an hour before opening it up to students in the audience. Over 100 students and voters attended the panel.

“[We wanted] to get people’s opinions before the election that might help people who are voting choose who they want,” said senior Megan Anderson, one of the students leading the project. “[The candidates] want as much media [attention] as they can so it’s easier to [talk to] them now before the election versus after they’ve been elected.”

Panelists included mayoral candidates Dr. Benny White and Scott Wehrli, as well as City Council candidates Patrick Kelly, Allison Longenbaugh, Ashley South, Meghna Bansal, Madhu Uppal, Jodi Trendler, Rebecca Malotke-Meslin and Nag Jaiswal.

“It was exciting to see all the City Council candidates and mayoral candidates talk about sustainability and how important it is to our community, but specifically to focus on our younger people who are gonna see the effects of these changes many years down the road,” Wehrli said. “It’s really important to see how these local officials have an impact on your future.”

Another group of Peace and Conflict Studies students started the project last year. The ultimate goal is to install solar panels on Naperville Central. For this year specifically, the group wanted to educate voters about the candidates’ views on sustainability.

“We’re hoping the council will hear our opinions and hear our voices,” Anderson said. “Research has been done and it shows how beneficial it would be.”

A September 2022 report by the New York Times found that installing solar panels on a school would save the institution $130,000 per year.

Because of Naperville’s contract with the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency (IMEA), the district would be required to lease the panels or buy them without city funds.

The contract with IMEA was signed in 2011 and lasts until 2036. It was a major topic of discussion during the panel.

“[IMEA] is pushing us to renew [the contract] early, and I would push to not renew it; that’s my number one reason for running,” Jodi Trendler said. In 2007, she unsuccessfully lobbied the City Council against the original contract.

Multiple panelists were supportive of increasing renewable energy usage in Naperville.

“If we can negotiate the public-private solar plant to have geothermal energy and solar power, I’m in support of that,” Nag Jaiswal said. “We can’t go back in time, but we can go forward; we need to become self-sufficient.”

Two panelists expressed concerns about the reliability and cost of solar energy.

“To some extent we need to rely on the traditional way of getting energy to our homes,” Meghna Bansal said.

According to the Clean Energy Alliance of Naperville, 70% of the city’s electricity comes from its ownership of a coal power plant in southern Illinois.

“This was a fabulous forum, the questions were far more in-depth and intelligent than some of the other forums we’ve gone to,” Trendler said. “It was wonderful to have the opportunity to present to our future Napervillians.”