Final Report: Adoption of Alternative Energy Sources in Chico, CA: Facilitating an Action Plan

EPA Grant Number: SU831882
Title: Adoption of Alternative Energy Sources in Chico, CA: Facilitating an Action Plan
Investigators: Stemen, Mark , Aldrich, Ryan , Fricke, Emily , Galiger, Erin , Gillick, Devan , Goggin, Gilliam , Huffman, Joseph , Kilby, Richard , Maas, Michelle , Martinez, Gabriel , Schwalm, Rebecca , Skillman, Brian , Stach, Kevin , Teague, Stephanie , Vigallon, Amy , Wermuth, Laurie
Institution: California State University - Chico
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: September 30, 2004 through September 29, 2005
Project Amount: $9,455
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Energy , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


One of the sunniest municipalities in the country, Chico, California is a prime site for conversion to solar power, on a par with Phoenix, Arizona. The project proposed, one piece of a larger effort to move the Chico area (and northern California region) towards solar and other renewable energy sources, will partner students with individuals and businesses wishing to adopt renewable, nonpolluting energy technologies, thereby combining educational and social change processes. The North Valley Renewable Energy Group is a new and growing non-profit partnership between California State University, Chico (CSU, Chico), community and government agencies, businesses, and activists in the Chico area. Engineers and other experts who belong to this consortium will offer technical support to the student teams and community members. The goal is to develop solar power locally and to facilitate transition to solar and other renewable energy sources as expeditiously as possible. By working together, all parties hope to facilitate progress towards renewable, more environmentally sensitive sources of energy in our community. Students will incorporate what they learn into their course work as a “service-learning” project, enriching their academic work and their potential as “agents of change.”

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

  • In Fall 2004, the 12 students enrolled in Dr. Wermuth’s Environmental Sociology course were paired with Chico sites identified as interested in shifting to renewable energy sources. Students interviewed interested participants and researched possible strategies for environmental improvements. Students in Dr. Stemen’s Environmental Issues class were to assist them but they took on the project of a campus sustainability assessment, partnered with Good Company of Oregon, and financed by CSU, Chico. So we did not reach out to as many partners as originally planned.
  • Students organized a charrette in December 2004 - an open meeting of all interested parties at Chico City Hall (in the early evening hours so that working people could come directly from work). The three student teams and City of Chico staff made poster board and verbal presentations, and in addition, engineers familiar with solar technologies were available to answer questions. Members of the community, city and university staff, students, and press from the town and student newspapers attended the meeting.
  • The team project to investigate the feasibility of converting the two apartment complexes to solar-thermal water heating has been successful thus far. Students partnered with engineers to develop a complete plan for installation, financing and analysis of “pay back.” Students wrote a formal report and submitted to the owner of the buildings in December 2004. Two presentations were made using power point, calculations, and pictures of the planned installations - one at City Hall and the other to classmates. The students found that the system would cost $74.000 and that after a 10% federal tax credit, a 7.5% CA tax credit, a five-year accelerated depreciation. and a CA state depreciation, the energy saved would pay for the system in six years. If the owner Tim Edwards implements renewable energy, the project will be a complete success.
  • The survey of a “new urbanism” housing development is still in progress. The student team during the Fall 2004 semester succeeded in developing the questionnaire, but New Urban Builders were slow to respond to students’ inquiries in designing the survey instrument. This delayed the final survey and human subjects approval, so that administering it in the Doe Mill neighborhood was just beginning toward the end of the Fall semester. It is being completed now (Spring 2005 semester) by Jesse Morcom, as part of her senior honors project.

    The student team was frustrated by the lack of responsiveness from the developers’ staff during the Fall 2004 semester. However, with Ms. Morcom’s work we should be able to report on patterns of energy usage and residents’ attitudes in our Washington D.C. presentation in May.

    The survey of the “new urbanism” development will be successful when the information can be used by the builder and also as part of a broader educational outreach campaign through the website designed for Phase II. The website will be linked to the local consortium’s website and will present information that is both general (about energy conservation and freeing up open space with more compact suburban housing) and specific (from residents in such a development). Presentations on the website will be useful for a variety of audiences, including individuals, businesses or schools wishing to adopt alternative energies, or teachers wishing to adopt curricular activities. These approaches will help slow production of green house gases and also minimize the damage from suburban sprawl (Lindstrom, Bartling, and Turman, 2003).

    A team of two students completed a Power Point presentation on “the new urbanism” and presented it at the City Hall meeting. When the survey information has been analyzed, it will be added to the presentation to complete the educational component of the new urbanism project. It will also be included on the website that will be developed and maintained at Pleasant Valley High School as part of their “going solar” project.

  • For the “going solar” project at Pleasant Valley High School, the team researched possible sources of funding for a grid-tied solar array for the high school, and also ways to integrate solar-related information into high school courses. Meetings with Principal Rupp, Mr. Copeland (director of the AVID program), and two additional teachers yielded a list of teachers and classes in which curricular projects could be integrated. (These are presented in the Phase II part of this proposal.) School Board member and local TV weatherman Anthony Watts (also a member of NSRE) attended the charrette and lent his support to the project. The educational gains for the college students were great. These gains will be extended to students at Pleasant Valley High School in Phase II.


  • Partnerships between college students, businesses, engineers, and public entities (county, city, K-12 schools) have the potential to promote and facilitate environmentally-sensitive practices, including preventing sprawl, and promoting energy conservation, pollution prevention, and conversion to renewable energies.
  • Student teams can play a role as investigators and strategists when they are partnered with technical experts. They can become “people and communication experts” through problem solving. The teams can move projects forward by putting interested parties in contact with technicians, and getting technical and financial questions answered. In the process students learn in a meaningful way about some of the technologies, governmental incentives, and ways to calculate payback estimates for conversion projects. Within a community where other individuals and groups are working toward environmental goals, these partnerships can have a synergistic effect, influencing the way people in the community think. This is the key to behavioral change — when people learn more about the cost-benefit analysis of conservation and conversions to renewable energies, and also the looming costs of continued reliance upon fossil fuels and suburban sprawl as "our way of life."
  • Student learning benefits will extend to high school students during Phase II of the project, as curricular activities are implemented. They will be role models in how young people can be engaged in community life.
  • Websites are an ideal way to make alternative energy information easily available and to foster new projects, whether they be “solar schools”, dense housing development, or information about financial strategies for making long-term investment in renewable technologies. Websites have the ability to educate in a open, democratic way — with consumers taking advantage of information, resources or people they wish to contact.
  • All community participants can benefit from the information presented via open conferences, websites, and town meetings.
  • Streamlined life cycle costing and analysis is appropriate to the solar-thermal conversion projects and to grid-tied solar projects, such as the one proposed for Pleasant Valley High School.
  • If Mr. Edwards proceeds with the solar-thermal conversion, fifty tons carbon dioxide emissions will be prevented and there will be savings of over $100K in energy costs over the 20 year life of the solar thermal system.

Proposed Phase II Objectives and Strategies:

Promoting Partnerships for Environmental Education and Renewable Energy

In Phase II, we will continue two projects originated in Phase 1. The main project of Phase II is a coordinated effort between a public high school (teachers, students, AVID program), students and faculty at CSU, Chico, and a local engineer. We have prepared well for this phase of the project. The partnerships of the above participants are well established with clear agreements. We will implement a grid-tied solar array on the roof of the local public high school, coordinated with curricular innovations in several courses at Pleasant Valley High School (teachers, courses and curricula are listed below). We see this as a major demonstration project for North State Renewable Energy. Partial funding is requested for equipment, installation and educational materials, and the remainder will be donated through NSRE and fundraising events organized by the partners and local service agencies.

The second (and lesser) project of Phase II will analyze the data from the ‘new urbanism’ housing development. A presentation will be added to the one developed in Phase I on the benefits of compactly designed housing. These presentations will be made available on the website of North State Renewable Energy. The partnerships in this project, as during Phase I will be between CSU, Chico students, New Urban Builders, and North State Renewable Energy. This project requires only a few hours of student assistant funds, which will be supported by student participation and university resources. The information will be valuable in the ongoing community debate over density in the Chico General Plan, as well as to New Urban Builders.

Supplemental Keywords:

renewable energy, solar power, environmental education, partnerships,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, waste reduction, Sustainable Environment, Energy, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Ecology and Ecosystems, Environmental Engineering, energy conservation, sustainable development, waste minimization, environmental sustainability, conservation, community based, energy efficiency, energy technology, engineering, solar energy, alternative energy source, resource recovery, renewable resource

Relevant Websites: Exit