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Martinez youth help residents save water, energy

City also participates in ‘Cool California Challenge’

The Martinez 2015 California Youth Energy Services team are, from left: Riley O'Brien, Allen Grengs, Ethan Mullins, Devan Kiehl, AzaleaLaws, Micah Wilburn, Cora Bishop and Charlotte Letellier. (KENNETH WELLS BROWN / Courtesy)
The Martinez 2015 California Youth Energy Services team are, from left: Riley O’Brien, Allen Grengs, Ethan Mullins, Devan Kiehl, AzaleaLaws, Micah Wilburn, Cora Bishop and Charlotte Letellier. (KENNETH WELLS BROWN / Courtesy)

By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
Martinez Tribune

A program that began in 2000 as an energy efficiency workshop at Berkeley High School has spread throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, including Martinez, where nine youth spent the past summer showing households how they can save water and power through a few simple changes.

Wells Brown is the regional manager of Rising Sun Energy Center’s California Youth Energy Services, and said the nine students visited 248 Martinez homes, handing out hardware and information.

The nine students, all between the ages of 15 and 22, were chosen from nearly 40 applicants, Brown said. They undergo a lengthy interview process that narrows the field, he said. Even those who don’t get accepted learn from the experience.

“It’s a rigorous interview for a 15-year-old,” Brown said, and gives them experience for applying for prospective jobs.

Of those selected for the 2015 summer work, some are working at their first job, Brown said. Others have returned for additional experience. Or, as Brown described some candidates, they have had jobs serving coffee or working retail and realized, “It’s not what they’re looking for.”

One of the students, an 18-year-old, told Brown he is determined to pursue a “green” career in one of the sustainable industries. And besides energy and water conservation, that’s a goal of the program.

After undergoing training, each participant, called a youth energy specialist, becomes part of a team. A younger student is paired with a participant 18 or older so that a legal adult is present during all visits.

Rising Sun markets the visits to neighborhoods and obtains the names of those who want “green house” calls. Participants may also reach out to the public during special events or by canvassing door to door. Any Pacific Gas and Electric customer close to service cities in Contra Costa, Marin and Alameda counties may apply for their local youth energy services teams to visit, and those visits are available to renters as well as owners.

During the summer, the nine students installed 1,492 compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, 218 light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, 113 LED night lights, 26 CFL torchiere lamps, and 72 efficient-flow showerheads and sink aerators that reduce the amount of water from those faucets each minute they’re on.

The students also handed out 113 power strips, and 17 clotheslines that would let homeowners use the sun to dry wet laundry.

They searched for ways the households waste or lose energy and water, checking water meters and pressure, examining attics for insulation and looking for appliances or devices that may consume power even when they’re turned off.

After completing their examination, they wrote customized reports for each household, and recommended additional changes that would help the family reduce consumption and save money.

Those visits come at no cost to the household, Brown said.

Those simple changes in the 248 homes should bring about big results, Brown said during a report to the Martinez City Council Nov. 4.

For instance, the conservation measures may reduce energy consumption by 38,962 kilowatt hours.

Heat consumption should drop by 202 therms, Brown said. A therm measures heat energy, and is the equivalent of 100,000 British thermal units (BTUs) and represents the energy equivalent of burning 100 cubic feet of natural gas.

The students’ efforts should drop water consumption by 1.04 million gallons, Brown said.

Put together, that should reduce carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions by 27.9 metric tons, which Brown said is the equivalent of 3,144 gallons of gasoline, 65 barrels of oil or the average annual electricity use of four homes.

The program was eclectic in choosing the homes that would receive students’ visits, Brown said. Of the 248, 65 percent were owned by the occupants, and the rest were rented.

Three-quarters of the households were Caucasian, with 10 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, 2 percent African American and the remaining 5 percent of other ethnicities, Brown said in his report.

Nearly two-thirds were of low or moderate income, with 35 percent considered high-income earners.

Of those who speak a language other than English, half spoke Spanish, 11 percent spoke Vietnamese, 7 percent spoke French and the rest spoke other languages.

Rising Sun’s inaugural program at Berkeley High School 15 years ago produced students who said they wanted to do more than talk about climate change. Their determination to spread their new knowledge into their neighborhoods gave birth to the California Youth Energy Services program.

Hundreds of youth have participated in the program since 2000, and thousands of Bay Area homes have been reached, Brown said.

In Martinez, Rising Sun works in collaboration with several partners – Martinez Unified School District, Republic Services, Contra Costa Water District and the municipal government, Brown said.

In other areas, Rising Sun works with East Bay Energy Watch, Marin Energy Watch and other utility districts.

After completing a summer in the Youth Energy Services program, a student can progress to an adult program that gives him or her trade skills and experience that can lead to labor union apprenticeships and careers, Brown said.

Martinez is applying to offer the same program in 2016, Michael Chandler, Martinez senior management analyst, said. The program had been housed in the Martinez Adult Education School, authorities from which told him space would no longer be available there. However, the Martinez Boys & Girls Club has offered some of its learning space if the program is approved for next year, Chandler said.

In another energy-related topic, Martinez is participating in the Cool California Challenge, and currently is ninth of 22 cities.

While the city will have an information opportunity at City Hall, 525 Henrietta St., prior to the Children’s Light Parade that starts at 5 p.m. Dec. 4, residents may enroll at www.CAChallenge.org to become part of the challenge before then.

Each enrollee can earn points for Martinez, and each person who signs up gives the city 400 points.

Those completing the “MyEnergy Plan” contribute at least 300 points to the city’s score in the challenge. That plan begins with setting a goal, and involves a five-page online form that asks about upgrades completed, details about appliances and utility bill history.

Every “action” an enrollee takes adds 100 points to the city’s score. That can be replacing old light bulbs with energy-efficient models and installing low-flow shower heads. Offering advice and tips ads 150 points, and uploading photos counts 75 points. Sharing information on social media and inviting others to the Challenge adds another 50 points each.

Information about Martinez’s participation is available at http://www.cityofmartinez.org/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=12444.

The city that has the most points will be crowned “The Coolest California City.”

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