In another step aimed at environmental sustainability, the college has entered into an agreement to acquire a fuel cell to cool classrooms and heat the swimming pool, officials said.

The fuel cell plant will not cost the district any money. “At no time will the district own the plant. We will be paying a discounted rate for the purchase of the electricity that the plant produces,” said Richard van Pelt, Vice President of Administrative Services, “Then we will also get the cooling and the heating capacity of the plant for no additional cost.”

The plant will be located in and around the Boiler Room, near the pool, and is not expected to make a significant amount of noise because fuel cells have no moving parts.

“The loudest part will be the cooling tower which is not very noisy at all,” said van Pelt.

Hanna Israel, Associated Students vice president for sustainability, praised the development.

“I have seen several presentations at many conferences about fuel cells, but the cost of such technology alone made the feasibility of implementation on our campus discouraging. So, the initial savings it will bring to PCC is a great step towards energy and cost reduction,” she said in an e-mail.

The fuel cell co-generation plant, supplied by UTC Power, will operate at a high efficiency. According to van Pelt, it is a viable alternative energy source because “it creates electricity via an electro-chemical process, rather than through combustion.  The burning of a hydrocarbon creates a great deal of pollution, whereas a fuel cell creates electricity, heat, water, and far fewer unwanted by-products, such as carbon dioxide.  Fuel cells are considered to be the most reliable generators of electricity,” said van Pelt.

The US Department of Energy predicts that global energy usage will rise 53 percent from 2008 through 2035 and PCC is one of the first community colleges to utilize fuel cell power along with larger universities like UC San Diego.

“We have done dozens of sustainable projects on campus, the latest of which include the conversion of fluorescent lamps to LED lamps in almost all campus buildings, and the replacement of high-wattage (500W) incandescent lamps in the swimming pool with LED (58W).  29 lamps were replaced. That means that three of the old lamps drew as much power as all 29 new lamps now draw,” said van Pelt.

“The goal for PCC to be grid neutral is important,” said Israel. “I think investments in sustainability as a means of revenue enhancement are necessary.”

The fuel cell is set to be up and running by the end of this year.

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