If Joe Shannon’s vision manifests, Gila County could one day have a solar-power electricity plant in the southern end and a biomass, wood-chip facility in the northern end.
Shannon, Gila County college’s science department chair, who also works as an adjunct biology professor at Northern Arizona University, is developing a sustainable energy program for Gila Community College that could begin next fall.
Through a series of four classes, the first of which would focus on general home renovations to increase efficiency, students could attain either a certificate in renewable energy or complete enough credits to earn an associate’s degree, ready for transfer to a four-year university.
By spring, Shannon will know if Arizona Public Service (APS) will award a grant to fund a Globe photovoltaic center, which transforms sunlight to electricity.
“It would be an APS working energy center,” Shannon said.
Since Payson students generally do not commute to Globe for classes, Shannon said the county’s north end could eventually receive a similar solar plant or a biomass facility.
“It’s been talked about a lot, but nobody has had the money to do it,” Shannon said about a biomass facility. “The timing might be right for something like that to occur.”
The introduction class, which Shannon said could also offer useful knowledge to the non-certificate-seeking general public, would teach students how to assess a home’s energy needs, maximize available tax credits, and determine savings from efficiency improvements. He predicts that any upcoming stimulus package will likely contain energy efficiency incentives.
Shannon said that a homeowner could recoup a $500 investment in roof insulation after one winter.
“How do you calculate that?” he asked. “That’s what they’ll learn.”
Of the three other classes, one would focus solely on photovoltaic energy — which is considered active solar technology — another would concentrate on passive solar, in which heated or cooled water can control a room’s temperature, and the third would center on wind energy.
Students could intern with local contractors to retrofit houses with green technology, and Shannon said he’ll pursue grants to help pay for technology.
“We’re trying to make it as hands-on as possible,” he said.
To begin by next fall, the courses must pass muster from Eastern Arizona College, which runs GCC and has ultimate say on curriculum.
Receiving grants would help, however, Shannon said he will pursue the classes even if funding fails to materialize.
“The No. 1 thing I feel is to get our preliminary course this fall,” he said. “People are really interested in this.”
Within two or three years, Shannon hopes to offer all the classes, in which a student could earn a 30-credit certificate in one year.
He thinks interest in renewable power will continue despite the recent decline in energy prices.
The technology dates back decades. Shannon worked during the 1970s to build solar additions to homes — four-season greenhouses and other heat-trapping sunrooms. Decreasing energy costs eventually caused most Americans to abandon the search for utmost efficiency. However, Shannon predicts energy prices will remain high this time.
“The first alternative energy, of course, is conservation. That’s the cheapest and the easiest,” Shannon said.
If consumers of Salt River Project and APS energy replaced all of the bulbs in their houses with low energy light bulbs, Shannon says the energy output from Glen Canyon Dam would slice in half. “Just by changing out bulbs.”
Shannon says through education, cultural habits are already changing to reflect new, green attitudes. “I have students who carry an aluminum can for four or five hours until they can get to a recycling can.”
And in a world where Shannon says some places forbid hanging clothes to dry outdoors instead of in a dryer, education could perhaps change everything.