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October 16, 2015 | Huston-Tillotson is Embracing Solar Energy as Part of its Environmental Justice Efforts

Huston-Tillotson, a college in downtown Austin, Texas, has a bit of a reputation. Known as a historically black university, Huston-Tillotson has also taken big steps to be known as a green and environmentally friendly one. The college has a campus food garden, it has built a patio of completely recycled materials, and it even created something called “The Dumpster Project,” where a professor lived for a year in a 33 square-foot dumpster as a way to test and demonstrate efficient living. The college has even established a student group with the catchy name Green Is The New Black.

That's a pretty impressive resume, but Huston-Tillotson isn't content to rest on its laurels. Instead, it's decided to earn some more bragging rights by installing a 240-kilowatt solar energy rooftop array.

Turning Texas Sun Into Classroom Energy

Texas has been a hotbed of activity during the push for solar energy, since the state is bombarded with large amounts of sun. The rooftop arrays installed at Huston-Tillotson are spread across three campus rooftops and collect more than 12 times the power you'd see on an average home solar array, according to My Statesman. Given that the student body is around 1,000 students, this array should provide as much as 10 percent of the power used by the school. In addition to giving the school the ability to say it's installed more solar power per student than any other Texas university, it also means that the savings the panels provide are likely to balance out their costs in a fairly short order. This is particularly true because of the rebate program that's a part of Austin Energy and the general cost of electricity for the present, as well as for the near future.

Pollution and Global Warming Affects Us All

A constant point being made by Huston-Tillotson, its environmental programs, and its Green Is The New Black activities is that pollution and global warming are issues that affect everyone on the planet, regardless of income, social standing, gender, political clout, or any other metric. The difficulty is that people with more immediate concerns like jobs, food, safety, and housing find it difficult to connect with issues that feel like something removed from their current needs. So, a big part of what Huston-Tillotson is doing is to help under-privileged and struggling people realize that environmental justice isn't just something for rich people to worry about; they can make changes, too.

The college's solar array cuts 262 tons of emissions out of the atmosphere every year; the equivalent of taking 32 cars off the road. That's impressive, but it seems a world away from someone who can't find a job, or who can't get into reliable, safe housing. However, not being tuned-in to the difficulties being caused by pollution and global warming doesn't mean soaring temperatures, unhealthy air, and contaminated water won't affect you. If anything, those who don't have social standing, political clout, or a lot of money are more affected than those who do have these things. They're more affected because they can't just turn up the air conditioning, buy a personal water filter, or install a windmill in their backyards to generate their own electricity.

"Open up your eyes. You wonder why our mothers get breast cancer and our kids get asthma?" said Brittany Foley, 19-year-old sophomore from Huston-Tillotson. This single quote puts environmental justice into perspective, and it gets to the heart of the matter when it comes to why everyone, rich and poor alike, should be concerned with the problems we face today.