If/when the apocalypse hits, my advice would be: Head to Santa Fe Community College. There, as best I can tell, the lights will stay on, clean drinking water will still flow and fresh food will continue to grow long after the rest of dehydrated Santa Fe has given up clubbing one another in the darkened streets while wrestling over the final chimichangas at Allsups.
I've written before about some of the programs within the school's Trades, Technology and Sustainability programs. These include its Controlled Environment Agriculture's aquaponics, biofuels, solar energy and water/wastewater programs, as well as on-campus businesses that grew out of the school, such as Apogee Spirulina.
Luke Spangenburg, SFCC's director of the Biofuels Center of Excellence as well as its Training Center Corporation, has helped build those and many other programs, as well as lead the school toward energy, food and water autonomy. As the new year and the new semester begins, I spoke with Spangenburg about some of those initiatives and the framework in which the school views its sustainability initiatives.
Building the Future
SFCC's Trades, Technology and Sustainability program is housed in the The Trades and Advanced Technology Center. The building itself has the highest LEED certification possible from the US Green Building Council. Among its many environmental features are a solar thermal rooftop system, rainwater catchment and a closed-loop system for water storage. "It has most of its own energy systems," Spangenburg notes. "We started building these assets, improving our efficiency and our assets because it's our responsibility. We're here as representatives of the community of Santa Fe, so we have to demonstrate what the future is actually going to be in a sustainable way. By building these renewable energy assets, we drove down our operating costs at the college. … We're within two years [of being] off the grid completely and doing all of our own energy."
Training for the Future
SFCC isn't just aimed at having energy autonomy, but also at training students to work in that field and all the emergent environmental fields, from horticulture to solar to wastewater management. Through a partnership with the global energy corporation Siemens, Spangenburg says students will receive hands-on training for the sector. "Local people can get trained and go work globally; they're in 60 different countries," he says.
Siemens, he notes, makes "controllers and solar panels and wind generation and gas generators, and when they came here, we integrated it with the greenhouse program. The greenhouse program is a little nanogrid, our campus is a microgrid, and we're going to be able to island ourselves away from the energy resource that everyone else is using, which is PNM. So here on campus, we'll be producing our own energy and proving we can manage it."
Spangenburg has national recognition for his work in the algae sector, and has taught in that program for more than a decade. The algae program also has a strong green workforce component, as well as state and federal partners, such as the national labs. All of the programs and partnerships on campus provide work, internships and field work, Spangenburg says, so "students can get hands-on experience in their business, start getting paid and then step into their future."
Resilience and Sovereignty
"We want to be clear on what we're trying to achieve," Spangenburg says. "Resilience, for me, is a combination of all of our ideas in Santa Fe. … We have all this talk about sustainability, farmers, farmers markets—but are they resilient enough to survive? Without the skills, without teaching these skills … you have no resiliency. As you get better and better with resiliency, all of a sudden, you're in a framework of autonomy. We own our land, we're going to own our energy resources, we're responsible for all of our water on campus, we already recycle all of that water—now we're getting into the food component. Sustainability can be many things: Resiliency is how it applies, sovereignty is how you measure it."
Portrait of an Entrepreneur
In addition to his positions at SFCC, Spangenburg also is president of New Solutions Energy. He ended up in SFCC when he was traveling through Santa Fe to visit his mother and enrolled at the college to take a singing class. He ended up taking green building, solar courses, and many other offerings in the nascent sustainability programs. He stepped in to run the biofuels program in 2012. "That was a stretch for me … but I got skilled at it, and I got mentored. I see myself as kind of an innovator, looking at the innovative ecosystem. Everyone has something to bring."
For more information on SFCC's School of Trades, Advanced Technologies and Sustainability, visit sfcc.edu/school/school-of-trades-technology-sustainability.