By David Kligman
STOCKTON—In 1976, Charles Segerstrom was a Stanford University student undecided about his future when he heard a speech that inspired him to devote his career to energy efficiency.
The speaker was environmentalist Amory Lovins, who described his vision of a “soft energy path.” His argument: It’s cheaper to save fuel than to burn it or build new power plants. And it’s good for the environment.
And that’s exactly the thinking behind the Energy Training Center in Stockton, one of three energy centers that Segerstrom manages for PG&E.
“This is not a customer-centric facility,” Segerstrom said. “It’s not Epcot Center with a lobby that’s really fancy. That’s not the point. It’s more of a blue collar, get your hands dirty, crawl around in our attic and under the house and see what reality really is.”
“It’s for the contractors and builders and weatherization crews that are out working on behalf of all of our customers,” he added.
The Stockton center was the first of its kind in the United States when it opened in 1978 to train contractors, engineers and other building professionals how to perform residential energy audits. Those who have trained there have gone on to weatherize more than 1 million low-income homes in PG&E’s service area.
Since the mid-70s, the utility and its customers have kept more than 168 million metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
The building is filled with hands-on displays, including a plastic model house that demonstrates the safety hazards of water heaters, furnaces and other appliances if there isn’t proper air flow. Teaching customer safety is a key element of energy efficiency education.
“Basically what we’re doing is we’re creating negawatts here,” said Gary Girardi, the center’s supervisor. “We’re showing people how not to use energy any more than they absolutely need to, to operate their homes and businesses.”
There’s also a new display showcasing the differences between older incandescent lights and newer energy-efficient LED lighting. And there’s a mock attic that shows how to properly seal leaks caused by recessed lighting and the proper clearance around chimney flues.
Behind the center is a model home built by college students to truly bring energy efficiency to life.
In the basement you can see the many different types of insulation, including shredded blue jeans.
On the main floor is a blower door that can pressurize or depressurize the house. An infrared thermography camera is then used to identify air leaks.
Some 450 classes are offered free of charge every year to more than 12,000 students.
“The whole program is a feel-good program,” said Frank Palma, who works for an insulation company and recently attended an eight-day class to get re-certified as an energy auditor for low-income families in Fresno. “It’s a way to give back to the community. It’s a way to help our neighbors.”
Although Segerstrom’s role now includes oversight over two other energy centers, he has a special bond to the Stockton facility where he began his career more than 30 years ago teaching energy efficiency.
A few years ago, Segerstrom invited Lovins, who co-founded the Rocky Mountain Institute, to speak at an event at PG&E’s San Francisco energy center. Segerstrom finally met the man who inspired his career – and even got his autograph.
Looking back on his work, Segerstrom says he’s proud of the center’s legacy.
“It gives me the opportunity to look my grandson in the eyes and tell him that I’ve really been working on something that’s meaningful to your future,” he said.
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.