GCC combo: Money saved and Earth restored

November 17, 2008

Al Gore’s 1992 best seller, Earth in the Balance, along with his 2007 Oscar-winning bravura PowerPoint Presentation on how perilously close the planet is to irrevocable manmade environmental disaster “An Inconvenient Truth,” awakened the nation to the dangers of being at the mercy of limited energy resources.

Add to those dire warnings the dizzying surge in energy prices and the results include a growing number of people who want to learn what they can do to lower their energy bills and help protect the planet.

Greenfield Community College has developed a series of courses on renewable energy and energy efficiency for trades people, and now is offering a non-credit workshop designed for homeowners, business owners and do-it-yourselfers.

“Practical Photovoltaics” is a 15-hour course for people with a strong interest in PV technology who may not necessarily want to install the solar panel themselves, but who do want to become conversant in the field to make informed decisions when working with a contractor or researching tax rebate opportunities. Workshop sessions will include hands-on training, exercises and experiments.

Although the course doesn’t begin until May, GCC is accepting registration beginning this month.

Unlike other courses in the college’s Community Education and Workforce Development program that focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency and geared toward people who work as electricians, plumbers and contractors, “Practical Photovoltaics’’ does not assume that the student has a background in the building trades, said Teresa Jones, coordinator of the Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency Program at GCC.

Photovoltaics, the science of transforming solar energy into electricity, is not a cheap endeavor at first, but its effects are long-lasting.

The average price for photovoltaic solar panels begin at about $28,000, but now the state offers tax credits for up to 30 percent of the costs, she said. Another plus is that with solar panels, the cost is fixed, while prices for oil, gas and electricity have nowhere to go but up.

“It’s a good investment,” said Jones, who added other ways to lower energy costs is to simply unplug appliances when they are not in use: computers, television sets, stove and microwave clocks, printers and cellular phone battery chargers.

Jesse Barba, assistant to the dean of GCC’s Institutional Support and Advancement, who helped shape the course, said he has been receiving many calls from people in the community who are looking to learn renewable energy basics but who aren’t interested in the subject as part of a certificate or degree program.

At the same time, building trades people have first priority for securing a spot in the renewable energy program courses, leaving many interested people out.

The happy medium, GCC hopes, is this course.

Barba said the intent of the upcoming class is to offer students something between what they would get from an intensive 45-hour course professionals take and the one-night workshop for consumers.

“There is a ton of demand in the public,” he said. If this is a success, he added, GCC may provide more non-credit energy-related courses to the general public such as the ins and outs of domestic wind.