Clean Air Heroes

By Alyssa Kay

Meet nine Salt Lake Community College graduates who are making a difference

Earlier this year, CATALYST presented A Clean Air Affair—an evening of experts speaking on the topic of air quality. CATALYST worked with the local chapter of the international group PechaKucha 20×20 (20 images, 20 seconds each). The evening kicked off our Clean Air Solutions Fair at Trolley Square. Over the year, we are sharing some of our speakers’ talks.

Meet Alyssa Kay, manager of the Energy Management Program at Salt Lake Community College’s Energy Institute. Kay loves hot springs, hiking, gardening, and her beehives.  With a masters degree in architecture and experience running her own design firm specializing in net zero energy and alternative building technologies, she’s proud to call herself a tree hugger.

Thank you. I chose this first image because to be completely honest, if you have the president visiting your program to commend you on the great work you’re doing, you show it every place you possibly can.

As a  tree hugger, I talk about a lot of things that make some people uncomfortable, things like climate change and renewable energy. But we’re here to talk about clean air, which is a subject pretty much everybody can get behind, right? Everybody likes to breathe clean air. Nobody wants to send their kids out into the dirty muck. We can talk about clean air with anybody, not just the tree huggers.

Energy efficiency is another great subject everybody can get behind because saving energy also saves money. And everybody loves to save money. So it’s a win-win scenario. A side effect of energy efficiency is clean air. That’s because most of the energy we use right now is created by burning fossil fuels… and that, of course, also creates pollution. For every unit of energy you use at your home or workplace, you have to create three units of energy at the source because of inefficiencies in distribution. So every unit of energy you’re saving is actually making three times the impact.

We teach our students this in the Energy Management Program. We also teach our students how to do energy audits, and look for money-saving systems they can upgrade. The money saved is equal to the amount of pollution we’re not off-loading into the environment.

All of our classes are taught by trained professionals who are working in the industry. Our students leave ready to go to work day one, making a difference. I see them as energy and clean air heroes. And they’re unlikely heroes, because most of them are not  tree huggers. Most of them are doing this because it’s a job and it’s cool and they like to figure out challenges.

Brent Jessop is one of our alumni. Brent used to work at Big O Tires. Now he installs building automation systems in businesses and high-end residences. Building automation systems are kind of like the autonomous vehicles of the building industry. They take input from users about the environment and they use that input to maximize energy savings so they run the building cost effectively.

Another alumni superhero is Raul Juarez. Raul works in HVAC. He did his internship with the Jordan School District, beginning in building automation. His first month on the job, he discovered a programming error—he saw the “am” and “pm” were switched. He fixed that error, and in one fell swoop probably saved the district about $50,000.

As an energy manager for the State of Utah, Jeff Wrigley is one of the few government employees who saves the state way more money than he makes: He saves taxpayers about $500,000 each year by making sure that new and existing state buildings are built to and operate at the highest energy efficiency standards. He really loves his job. And remember that every dollar he saves is also energy savings and that’s cleaner air.

This is Geri Trower. She went back to school later in life after taking five years off to take care of a sick family member. She works in Energy Management at the University of Utah, monitoring building energy use and determining which energy efficiency upgrades will make the biggest difference. She was really excited because she found out that she could have a career in clean energy and make a difference in something she had never dreamed would be possible.

Brenna Dunn works for the Community Action Program. She goes into buildings and residences and conducts energy audits. Then the Community Action Program implements the energy savings measures she recommends. The residents don’t have to pay for the improvements and they get to save money on their energy bills. So she’s a hero to a lot of people.

Todd Jacques works for an energy efficiency consulting firm. Most of his work is in really large buildings like hospitals and casinos. Over the seven years on the job since he’s graduated from the program, he’s saved his clients over $2 million. Remember, that’s the equivalent of  $2 million in cleaner air.

Mike Petersen is the energy manager for Salt Lake Community College. He’s one of my personal heroes because he got electric vehicle charging stations installed on the campus. Since I drive an electric car, I really like the work he does. He also saves the college about a million kilowatt-hours per year.

Ezra Nielson works for an independent energy consulting firm. He specializes in recommissioning buildings. Recommissioning is kind of like when you do a factory reset on your phone. It brings buildings back to their original (optimum) operating state when their systems get out of whack. It’s a high impact improvement measure with very little investment.

Darin Pilgeram is the energy manager for the Utah National Guard. His jurisdiction is all of Utah. When he was in the Energy Management Program, one of his class projects was to design an alternative energy system and calculate the payback of that system. He designed this wind turbine with a micro-grid that he then took to the Department of Defense. It may receive funding to be built at Camp Williams. This $6 million project would pay for  itself in just a few years. Darin is another real world hero. What he learned in school he implemented right away.

So these are some of our clean air heroes. If you see them doing their jobs, please say “Thank you.” They may not know it, but they are really making a difference. And that’s what we need. Also, most of these people are not tree huggers. And that’s awesome because we need everybody.

To learn more about Salt Lake Community College’s  Energy Management program, visit their website.

This article was originally published on August 31, 2018.