Going Green: GCC Can Make an Impact

Derek Stowe, staff reporter

Green technology refers to any effort to reduce mankind’s contamination of the environment.

Students interested in green technology are learning water and power trades, joining the environmental club or majoring in science, engineering, architecture or communications to discover and promote green solutions.

“Ancient fuels like oil, coal and natural gas release carbon that has been stored safely in the earth for millions of years,” said geography professor Michael Reed.

If all that carbon is released it back into the atmosphere over a period of a few hundred years, the consequences will be disastrous, he said. There is no way for our forests and oceans to safely re-absorb it all.

Echoing Al Gore in his documentary “Inconvenient Truth,” Reed said the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are increasing exponentially. “Due to the greenhouse effect, this undeniably leads to higher average world temperatures and climate change.”

“But America is not listening yet,” said Jean Lecuyer, the director of GCC’s science center and planetarium.

“Just as the cigarette companies wanted to debate the dangers of smoking as long as they could, big oil plans to milk all the profits they can out of petroleum for as long as possible.”

Until fossil fuels do run out, choosing alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and wave power will remain less convenient, said Reed. “After all, a gallon of gasoline yields the equivalent of 600 man-hours of labor.”

Students interested in going green are advised to gain a solid foundation in science. GCC offers courses such as oceanography which make use of films and activities designed to make learning about science fun.

One popular class for students concerned about the environment is Geography 106: human impact on the environment, which is taught by Reed.

GCC missed the deadline to receive government help to upgrade the college with green technologies such as solar panels on the roof of the library, he said. “At least we got some for the parking structure.”

To cash in on grant money the next time there is a federal program for green installations, the Glendale college district completed the required energy audit by professional engineers (PE Consulting). It cost $60,000 and was completed in November of 2010.

The audit identifies upgrades that would reduce campus operating costs and the college’s carbon footprint, according to Reed, who is also GCC’s sustainability coordinator, the founder of the Environment Affairs Committee, and adviser to the Environmental Club.

The Environmental Club regularly shows documentaries on green power and conservation, said club president Julia Clark.

More than 20 students turned out for one Monday’s showing of “The Story of Stuff” with Annie Leonard. The 21 minute illustrated documentary describing capitalism’s doomed system of materialism can be viewed on Youtube.

Clark, 19, said she wants people to “be more aware of what they’re doing.” She is planning to transfer to Humboldt State to major in environmental science, with an option in energy and climate.

“I’ve always really cared about the environment,” said Clark. “I don’t think we can continue running on the amount of energy we have been, and it’s not likely that we can find enough renewable sources. So we also have to look at reducing our consumption. We should turn off the lights when we leave the room — the small things add up.”

Using regional power sources is also important, she said. “L.A. should use more solar; Northern California should use more geothermal.”

Transmitting electricity is not very efficient: 50 percent of all electricity is lost via the power lines that deliver it, said Reed.

For students who want a career making energy distribution more efficient, the industrial technology department offers a power line program called Verdugo Power Academy, partnered with Glendale Water & Power.

The one-semester crash course is worth 17 units. The program boasts a 60 percent success rate in placing graduates in a green job with a livable wage, said technology and aviation department chair Scott Rubke.

After just one semester, graduates can obtain the skills and certificate required to start work right away as an electrical line mechanic. For example, graduates are needed to retrofit homes with smart grid technology.

Smart grids improve water and power distribution and monitoring, thus reducing carbon emissions.

Using a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Glendale was one of the first cities in California to implement smart grid technology.

It may help Los Angeles, the third smoggiest city in the nation according to the American Lung Association, breathe easier, too.

With a way to constantly gauge their usage digitally, consumers can strive to go greener with energy-saving light bulbs and water-saving plumbing, said Jan Swinton, the associate dean of instructional services and workforce development.

Another career option is in municipal water management, taught by GCC’s newest addition the Greentech Environmental Programs department.

Water treatment technology is important because the city of Glendale, for example, burns up more than 20 percent of its power to treat and distribute water and sewage, said Swinton. That power comes mostly from non-renewable fossil fuels and nuclear power.

The city of Glendale’s energy content label reveals that non-renewable fuels including natural gas, coal, nuclear and unspecified sources make up 79 percent; and renewables including wind, hydroelectric, landfill gas, geothermal and solar power make up 21 percent.

This puts its renewable energy content at twice the 2007 statewide municipal average of 10 percent. Currently, Glendale’s 21 percent is greener than Riverside’s 18 percent and Pasadena’s 16 percent renewable content.

On July 17, the Glendale Community College District adopted a green initiative called Environmental Sustainability. It includes regulations that demand the integration of renewable energy sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the Verdugo and Garfield campuses.

For example, facilities director Dan Padilla said he is now accepting bids to retrofit the fluorescent lights in the San Rafael building to more efficient LED lights. The investment should pay off in less than 5 years.

Recent conservation efforts to reduce wasted energy on campus include monitoring power consumption with smart meters.

Air conditioning drains the most energy at the college, said Padilla. When a classroom’s AC is too cold, occupants should not tamper with the controls. Instead, they should call extension 5555 to report it. Compiling these alerts, Padilla can better stabilize room temperatures to accommodate student and faculty preferences.

In terms of men’s bathrooms, waterless urinals have saved thousands of gallons of water every month since they were installed in 2003. Additionally, greener cleaning techniques now include using hydrogen peroxide solutions instead of ammonia or other harsh chemicals, he said.

As for the solar panel installation on the parking structure, it was designed by Chevron Energy Solutions and completed July 21, 2008. Glendale Water & Power owns and operates the system and sells the emission-free solar energy back to the college at the same price as conventional power.

The solar panels produce enough electricity to power 125 homes or 10 percent of the campus’ energy needs.

Reed said the college should have bought those panels and then let them pay for themselves over six or so years by selling their output to GWP. “Over the long run, it would have really paid off.”

When GWP offered to install the panels for free, few considered the long-term profit potential of harvesting energy from the sun, he said.

“GCC’s sustainability program is still in its infancy.”

Whether green-minded students want to learn a water or power trade, join the environmental club, or major in a science, Glendale College can be of assistance.

To make a difference in the world, all it takes is making a green decision.