By Harry Esteve, The Oregonian

October 20, 2009, 3:47PM

Portland Community College is poised to begin work on a $15 million project aimed at eventually turning the Sylvania campus into what’s called “net zero” — newspeak for generating all energy on site and offsetting all carbon emissions.

Plans for the first phase, expected to begin within a few months, include installation of a 1.1 megawatt natural gas generator and sophisticated monitoring of heating and air conditioning systems.

Those steps alone will lead to a 57 percent reduction in the campus’s carbon output and reduce its energy spending from $1.6 million a year to $440,000, said Linda Gerber, PCC Sylvania president.

“I believe that higher education has a responsibility to lead the country in addressing global warming,” Gerber said. Her campus also will stress sustainability and green technology in its curriculum, she said.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski highlighted the PCC project on Tuesday in an announcement of $7.2 million in federal stimulus money, including $1 million for the PCC upgrades. The money from the $787 billion federal stimulus package is being spent to make government buildings around the state more energy efficient.

Oregon universities will divvy up about $1.4 million for campus conservation projects, and the city of Portland is getting $500,000 for energy upgrades. In all, the money will finance 97 different projects.

Kulongoski called the spending “an unprecedented opportunity” to save energy in public buildings. The money is expected to provide the equivalent of 268 full-time jobs for three months, mostly for contractors and construction workers.

The projects are less than sexy, many focusing on improved HVAC systems and new lighting. Multnomah County, for example, is slotted for nearly $1 million for lighting and heating systems. The county jail gets $375,000 to save on dryer heat in its laundry room.

About $15,000 will go toward a revamp of the heating and cooling system at Portland City Hall. Slower motor speeds, officials say, should cut the building’s electricity bill by $4,000 a year. The Portland Building next door, which houses several of the city’s largest bureaus, will get $275,000 toward computerized lighting and energy systems.

Four Smart Park garages downtown will receive $170,000 for lighting upgrades and about $48,000 will go toward a new boiler, cooling tower and heat pumps at the Southwest Third and Alder parking garage retail space.

PCC will add its $1 million share to another $14 million from various sources. The biggest — $9 million — comes from bond sales approved by Portland voters last year. The rest is a combination of state energy tax credits, low interest loans and money from the Energy Trust of Oregon.

Sylvania, the biggest of PCC’s four campuses and 12th biggest in the nation, hired the Portland firm Gerding Edlen to design a plan that would allow the college to attain “net zero” status. The goal, Gerber said, is not only to save energy and money but also to become a national leader in the effort to reduce climate-warming greenhouse gases.

“There are hundreds of campuses around the nation that could use this as a model for how to become sustainable,” she said.

Gerber stressed that the upcoming work at Sylvania is only the first phase. To attain true sustainability will require converting the natural gas generator to a biofuel cell, adding 2 megawatts of solar voltaic panels and reducing use of potable water by 50 percent, among other measures.

All told, the work is expected to cost $138 million, Gerber said.

— Harry Esteve

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