By Michael Gagne
Mike Plasski, an instructor in weatherization at Bristol Community College's Green Center in the Commonwealth Landing building, had a few more bodies in his classroom than usual on Thursday afternoon.
Those extra people -- U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan, a handful of state representatives and senators, college leaders and a few media members -- received a brief rundown on how homes can be weatherized, during a tour of the center.
The tour came before the announcement that BCC will receive a $100,000 grant to fund its partnerships with local high schools, area clean-energy companies and government agencies to provide training for science, technology, engineering and math education.
While he had the attention of the gathered dignitaries, Plasski held a foam insulation gun as he pointed to a small model, which looked like a box, on a table near the front of the classroom. He spoke about the energy loss that comes simply from air moving through ceilings and attics.
"There's a lot of warm air going through your ceiling," Plasski explained. Learning how to stop or reduce that airflow can result in significant energy savings.
So students at Bristol Community College's Green Center are not just getting lessons on solar and wind energy. The grant is specifically directed toward programs meant to educate high school students in science, technology, engineering and math.
"This is a very important grant," BCC President Jack Sbrega said after the tour. "The term "workforce development' and the term "green energy' are virtually synonymous now."
Sullivan said Massachusetts is a leader in clean energy, with 5,000 companies in the industry operating in the commonwealth.
Sullivan said the industry employs 72,000 people. Statewide, the number of jobs in the sector increased by 11 percent over the year.
The purpose of the grant, Sullivan said, is "to invest in the training and retraining of our workforce so that we can meet the needs of the industry that is in fact fast growing.
"We have... really grown this industry," he said. "We have made really smart decisions on our energy policy so that the focus on new clean energy is also an economic model to create jobs."
"We saw what Bristol Community College will be doing with this money," Sullivan said. "Working with high school students and the retraining, working in the field of not only renewables, wind and solar, but energy efficiencies, insulation, are all very important parts of the economy.
"Congratulations. I know you will use these dollars very wisely, moving forward," he said.
Plasski's class includes a laboratory, which includes "mock-ups" of two different kinds of roofs. One was the typical roof that might be found atop a typical Cape-style home.
Plasski said, "One of the questions I get asked is what is weatherization? And what we're really looking at is the installation of air sealants."
More simply put, it's "stopping drafts," Plasski said.
In another room, BCC instructors explained a program and learning lab meant to help high school instructors impart renewable energy related lessons in their classrooms. Students in BCC's engineering program go out to middle and high schools to teach hands-on lessons, instructors explained.
"Make no doubt about it, we are national leaders in the field of clean energy and energy efficiency," Sullivan said. "We have been recognized as number one in the field of energy efficiency and our best days are ahead."
"If we want to be leaders of developing clean energy, we have to make that investment. Good business is clean energy, that's protective of the environment. Front row, center, it begins with education," said Kennedy.
"The people in Fall River like to work, the people know how to work, and the people want to work," said state Rep. Paul Schmid. "We need the training and you are helping us advance. I guarantee the people of Fall River will put that to use."