During the online audits, the farmer and student select "agriculture" as the industry, to ensure that they are looking at the farm's agricultural account, not a residential account. Dean Kunesh of PG&E said an "Energy Checkup" feature on the website is intended to help farmers create an energy plan to reduce energy costs.
"(The students) sit down at the computer with the farmer and the farmer will input their account number, and then they go through the steps that we've got outlined in the lesson plan," Kunesh said.
A grower may be able to pre-answer a few questions, Harlan said, but he or she will need to be on-site to answer questions regarding facilities on the farm such as buildings and irrigation pumps.
Patrick Mullen, PG&E regional director for agriculture and customer service, said the audit may offer ways to improve energy efficiency on the farm, such as energy-efficient lighting in barns or other areas, improved heating, cooling and ventilation systems, and improvements in irrigation pumps, variable-speed motors and pump tests.
"The savings can be significant," Mullen said. "The programs change, so that is why it is helpful periodically to go in and do an assessment."
Aschwanden said an energy audit of a dairy, for instance, could help determine the potential benefits of switching from one type of flourescent light to a more energy-efficient type.
"This program will allow you to enter the number of lights that you are going to convert and it will tell you what the energy savings would be," he said. "It tells you what the new lights will cost and how many weeks or months it would take to recover that in terms of energy savings."
PG&E provided examples from farmers who made pump improvements, irrigation system pressure reductions and improvements to lighting and refrigeration. The savings varied from almost $1,000 to $17,000 per year, the utility said, and in some cases PG&E issued rebates of between $8,000 and $12,500.
PG&E and FFA have set a goal of completing 5,000 on-farm energy assessments by the end of the school year.
"Completing these assessments is a win-win situation: The growers are able to save money, FFA members are able to build new relationships and gain experience that will help us now as well as in the future, and PG&E is able to help us conserve energy," Martinez said. "I have definitely enjoyed this experience and can't wait to be able to show others how easy it is to save both money and energy."
Farmers can learn more by reaching out to their local FFA chapters or by visiting www.pge.com and logging into the "My Energy" portal.