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David Laloata, 15, Oct. 11, 2023, in Denver. Laloata, from Guam, has seen heat and other pollution affect wildlife at the island and has seen been motivated to get involved in climate activism. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

When he was younger, David Laloata watched climate change raise the waters around his native Guam, destroy coral reefs and increase wildfires on what should be a tropical island. 

As a 15-year-old transfer sophomore at Denver Public Schools’ Northeast Early College, Laloata stood under a new solar array serving as a power station and parking lot canopy and talked about the thrill of helping his fellow students lead the next generation of climate change problem-solvers.

“This may only be the beginning of solving one of our major issues,” Laloata said, speaking at the edge of the shade provided by panels that will provide enough power for the whole high school, and help train hundreds of future clean technology employees. “But this is proof that we the people are trying to save and restore what has been destroyed.” 

Laloata provided the student link in a VIP-heavy dedication Friday of the 10th of 12 planned solar canopies on school campuses and other institutional sites around Denver, funded by the city climate office. The Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency, or CASR, has committed $33.4 million for the 12 sites for installation, maintenance and operations, though the city expects to get all of that money back through federal tax credits and energy credits from Xcel. All credits or revenue above ongoing maintenance and operations for the canopies will be plowed back into new projects, officials said.

Officials with the city of Denver and Denver Public Schools tour a new solar carport at Northeast Early College High School before a ribbon cutting of the $1.5 million project Oct. 11, 2023, in Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The canopies, which stretch over dozens of cars in the parking lot of Northeast Early College, offer multiple practical and climate change features, according to city officials: 

  • Each canopy can replace most or all of the electrical energy needs on their campus, substituting 100% clean power for the mix of clean and fossil fuel generated energy from Xcel. 

  • Credits from Xcel will lower utility bills for hundreds of low-income Denver Public Schools families, including in multifamily properties without access to onsite solar power. In some cases, the credits will reduce family spending by $700 a year. 

  • Many of the canopies include stations for  free EV charging onsite. 

  • The shade from canopies lessens the urban heat island effect of large asphalt parking lots. 

  • DPS uses the projects to help train students in design, installation, management and maintenance of clean technology projects, for future careers. 

  • The 12 canopies should produce nearly 10 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, avoiding nearly 70,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide production over 10 years. 

The Northeast Early College canopy is a 309-kilowatt array. Newly appointed CASR director Elizabeth Babcock said the various canopy projects have so far helped train nearly 800 people for clean energy positions. 

“This project now demonstrates that we can implement solutions that not only make progress towards our carbon reduction goals, but that create meaningful co-benefits for our community,” said Jonathan Rogers, manager of mobility and energy transition for CASR. 

Electric vehicle chargers are seen at Northeast Early College High School Oct. 11, 2023, in Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The climate change office is tasked with spending taxpayer money to help reach the goal of a 65% reduction in carbon pollution from inside Denver by 2030. Voters in 2020 approved a sales-tax increase dedicated to the climate office that raises about $40 million a year for climate projects. Popular policies so far have included e-bike rebates and electric appliance rebates. 

The canopies are either finished or under design and construction everywhere from Denver Botanic Gardens’ Chatfield southwest campus to the newest, at Abraham Lincoln High School, where the power should be ready to plug in a year from now. 

“We’re experiencing the impacts of a climate crisis every day,” Babcock said to a dozen students in the audience last week at the dedication. “I know that the challenges ahead can seem daunting. You deserve a secure, livable and affordable future in this city and on this planet.” 


Michael Booth is The Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of The Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He and John Ingold host the weekly Sun-Up podcast on The Temperature topics every Thursday. He is co-author with...