Randy Grissom is the interim director of the Santa Fe Community College's Sustainable Technologies Center. The groundbreaking ceremony for the program's new $11.4 million center will be held at 5 pm on Friday, Aug. 14 at SFCC (6401 Richards Ave., 505-428-1000), followed by The Green Gala (6-9 pm, $125; to purchase tickets, call 505-428-1175). Last week, SFCC announced it had received a $100,000 grant from Los Alamos National Securities that will be used to support the center.

SFR: So, will SFCC now offer students what they need to get a job in the green economy?
RG: Yes. For example, to be a licensed solar installer, to install photovoltaic, you need to be a licensed electrician; to install solar thermal for hot water or heat, you need to be a licensed plumber. We're going to be putting together full programs in those areas. We're going to start
these programs up as green as they can be.

Looking toward the future, what Sustainable Technologies program are you most jazzed about?
This fall we start a biofuels program, where we're going to be training students to produce ethanol and biodiesel from non-food feed stock. Our primary focus is going to be algae, but we are going to be taking the waste streams from area restaurants, from the grease traps, the leftovers from the brewing companies and use that to produce ethanol or biodiesel.

What will change about the college's current sustainable technologies classes with the advent of the new center?
Right now, most of our classes are evening and weekend, which is great for the part-time student, but we need to get some full-time faculty and coordinators on board so we can offer condensed day programs. Students want to get in and out; they can't afford to be here for six, seven semesters taking classes on a part-time basis.

What are some ways SFCC has made the campus more eco-friendly?
The president signed on with [the American College &] University Presidents Climate Commitment. We developed a sustainability plan that has been approved by the board, and we have a sustainability steering committee that is tasked with reviewing everything related to sustainability that's going on with the college. In addition, the college itself is looking at multiple projects to decrease the college's carbon footprint. For example, we are now using a biomass boiler.

What is a biomass boiler? It sounds kind of sinister.
A biomass boiler is where you're taking some sort of vegetative material, and you're burning it in a controlled environment at a very high intensity with very little waste product. It's fairly common in Europe but not so common in the United States. We have a grant from the [US] Forest Service to pay someone to clear out the undergrowth of the forest, chip it and bring it to us. It's kind of like a big pellet stove.

What kind of impact has that had on the college's energy use?
This is the first year we've had it in operation, so we've had some ups and downs of learning how to control it and feed it, but the first month we had it in operation, [Public Service Company of New Mexico] came out because they thought something was wrong with our gas meter.

Would you say the new center marks a turning point for SFCC?
Here at SFCC, we primarily offered general studies, business and arts-related programs, and have not been the full comprehensive community college that has trades-related programs. It's been [college President Sheila Ortego's] vision to have an advanced technologies center here for a while, and it's turned out, with the direction that the Santa Fe community wants to go—both economic development-wise and in tune with the changing world—that sustainable technologies has turned out to be the right focus for us to have.