EARTH DAY 2014: MCCC dedicates wind turbines at Pottstown campus

Photo by John Strickler Four newly constructed wind turbines were dedicated Monday at the Montgomery County Community College west campus in Riverfront Park.
Photo by John Strickler Dignitaries cut the ribbon during the dedication ceremony for newly constructed wind turbines. (Photo by John Strickler/The Mercury)

Just in time for Earth Day, new electricity-generating turbines at the west campus of Montgomery County Community College were dedicated Monday, April 21, with a fair amount of fanfare but too little breeze to show them in action.

The four 25-foot-tall turbines make as much noise as a desktop computer and each generates 1,000 watts of energy.

That’s enough to power the LED lights in the “green parking lot” at the Riverfront Park campus, which is also home to the headquarters of the Schuylkill River National Heritage Area.

The other half of that building, once a coal-fired electricity generating plant, also may soon be home to the community college’s environmental studies program as a result of the state’s commitment to fund its portion of that project, a commitment MCCC President Karen Stout announced Monday.

The ribbon-cutting was the first of a week-long series of events to celebrate Earth Week and the college’s continued “commitment to sustainability,” said Stout, who noted that its efforts have reduced its energy footprint by 19 percent.

Over the next 15 years, those savings will completely fund the $6 million in improvements to energy efficiencies at both the Blue Bell and Pottstown campuses, she said.

Those improvements, made through a partnership with Siemens, include energy efficient lighting; control systems that cut power when devices and rooms are not in use; low water use toilets; renewable energy sources like the turbines on display and the new natural-gas-powered shuttle bus between the Pottstown and Blue campuses which is scheduled to make its debut today.

Stout said the global theme of this year’s Earth Week events revolve around “green cities. And Pottstown is poised to become a green city” with the college’s increasing footprint in town.

As examples, she pointed to the new shuttle, she pointed to the security crews on two-wheeled Segway scooters instead of driving a gas-powered vehicle around the campus while on patrol, and the fact that as it has grown in Pottstown, the college’s West Campus has “re-claimed property instead of building new.”

“There are just so many ways we’re going green,” said Michael D’Aniello, chairman of the college’s board of trustees, noting it is an effort that has been underway since 2007.

“Not only are we saving money; not only is it the right thing to do, but we are serving educational purposes as well,” D’Aniello said, offering up the example of a Pottstown child who sees the turbines and develops an interest in science.

Ed Mullin, the trustee who heads up the board’s facilities committee, added that LEED certifications (measures of energy and environmental efficiency) are being pursued at college buildings and the ensuing savings will be demonstrated “when summer comes and the air conditioning turns on.”

Stout also thanked Pottstown Borough Council for being “extraordinarily helpful” in providing the approvals for the turbines and council President Stephen Toroney joked that if enough politicians got up on stage, they could create enough hot air to get the turbines spinning.

“I’ve been on council long enough that I stood in that empty field when the west campus was first built and I was on council when this former PECO building was transferred to the college and we are just so grateful to have the college here in our town,” Toroney said.

State Rep. Mark Painter, D-146th Dist., said he can remember when he was growing up and Pottstown’s riverfront was entirely industrial, “and if someone had said back then that the Schuylkill River would be Pennsylvania’s River of the Year like it is this year, if would have been the punch line of a joke.”

But the potential of the river, and of environmentally friendly technology, to help make Pottstown a thriving place again is no joke, Painter said.

“I dream of a day when new wind turbines coming on-line in Pottstown won’t be an event, but an every day occurrence,” he said. “But for now, I’m happy to see it setting an example that people will follow for years to come.”