SMUD targets green teens at Youth Energy Summit
William Abrams was working at a hardware store in Rancho Cordova when he noticed that at least half of the trash the business routinely threw away could be recycled. So he implemented a workplace recycling program. This is only one way the 17-year-old student at Jesuit High School has engaged in environmental activism.
“I drive a Mercedes which runs on vegetable oil,” Abrams explained.
He wrote an essay about his car’s role in reducing his carbon footprint, which got him and three friends accepted to the Youth Energy Summit, a two-day leadership training hosted by SMUD in late January.
About 60 students from some 15 schools attended the summit to learn about the importance of developing a cleaner future and to acquire the tools needed to become civic-minded energy advocates. Roseville Electric, Lodi Electric Utility and the California Energy Commission co-sponsored the event.
“These are tomorrow’s consumers, and we want them to use energy wisely. We want to do the same or more with less,” said Jim Shetler, assistant general manager of energy supply for SMUD.
The program, however, didn’t dwell on conservation. Instead, sessions focused on energy efficiency; renewable energy, such as solar and wind; and challenges and innovations in energy generation and transmission. Students learned about global warming, green-collar jobs and what’s called “energy civics,” otherwise known as energy-related legislation and politics.
Although SMUD regularly offers similar trainings to the business community, such as architects or photovoltaic providers, this is the first time a program has targeted youth. The summit, Shetler said, fits with Compact with the Customer, an initiative recently launched by SMUD to assist customers in reducing their energy use, especially during peak hours in the summer.
Chelsea Sexton, from the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, opened the summit. Later, Scott Tomashefsky of the Roseville-based Northern California Power Agency spoke to students about President Barack Obama’s energy plan and Assembly Bill 32—California’s landmark global-warming legislation. Both call for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, a massive undertaking that requires the commitment of as many people as possible, including, of course, young people.
He challenged students to consider the pros and cons of hotly debated issues, such as the use of hydroelectric dams (many environmental groups oppose dams because of their impact on fish populations, natural landscapes and displaced people) and nuclear power as a huge source of carbon-free energy—but what do we do with all that dangerous radioactive waste?
“Everything sounds good, but there’s a catch to it,” Tomashefsky warned.
While today’s teenagers may not be in a position to enact policy changes, they will be the ones most impacted by detrimental environmental practices in the long run.
“We need to use energy more efficiently, and if we don’t get it right, we’ll pay for it with our pocketbooks and health,” Tomashefsky said.
On the first day of the summit, students toured the SMUD facility, learning about the green aspects of the headquarters, which uses 35 percent less energy than a typical building in Sacramento. The students were born right around the same time this building was designed and constructed in the early 1990s. Students also learned about a photovoltaic trailer on site that produces energy from the sun, which it stores for later use.
“Energy efficiency is always exponentially cheaper than producing your own power,” said Brent Sloan, an energy adviser with SMUD.
Students will use the knowledge gained at the summit to create energy-related service projects in their schools and communities. Projects will be displayed at the state Capitol on Earth Day in April, where they will be judged and winners will be awarded scholarships.
For Abrams, he’ll take this newfound information back to Jesuit High School, specifically to fellow members of the school’s recycling club.
“I’m into everything green, and this was a great opportunity to come and learn and tell other people about it,” he said, smiling. “Knowledge is power.”