Editor's note: Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert, a weekly newspaper created by the California Farm Bureau Federation.
With some assistance from high school students, agricultural customers of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. can learn how to save money and increase energy efficiency in a program developed through a partnership between the utility and Future Farmers of America. Students are trained in conducting energy assessments via the online "My Energy" tool on the PG&E website.
"We have students who are comfortable using the technology and are able to show producers how to access the program, how to plug the variables in and create an energy plan they can use to decide whether or not to implement parts of it or all of it," said Jim Aschwanden, executive director of the California Agricultural Teachers' Association. "It's a neat program because it will actually tell you about the rebates that are available."
Since June, for example, agricultural students at Woodland High School have been trained to use the PG&E energy tool. If farmers haven't done so already, FFA students can help them register for a "My Energy" login on the PG&E website by entering their agricultural account number, name and address. This allows farmers and students to look at account information in real time, and continue with the energy assessment.
Nancy Martinez of Woodland High School FFA recently completed her first on-farm energy audit outside of the classroom during a visit to Blake Harlan's nearby farm.
"The basis of this program is to help growers save money by conserving energy," Martinez said. "Basically, FFA students go out to local farmers and show what kinds of different changes they can make to their facilities to conserve energy. We are able to see energy conservation in action, a valuable real-world experience. It may sound like a long and difficult process, but it is actually very simple and straightforward."
Harlan, a diversified grower who produces crops such as alfalfa, processing tomatoes and sunflowers, said he appreciates the opportunity to view details about the farm's energy usage, and to work with Martinez on the energy assessment.
"The important part of this program is that it stimulates the exercise of reviewing your accounts," Harlan said. "It's a simple format, and having a fleet of students that are at least trained to go through the exercise helps you to get through it."
He added that most farmers "are excited to help the FFA kids when we have the chance, so to have a bunch of kids that you can work with and promote their training and skills in a way that can help benefit you as well is worthwhile."