Seizing the Time
Solar/renewable energy age will dawn – if we act now.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Thirty years ago I worked for Solar Access of Santa Cruz, a business that designed and installed residential solar systems. With the dauntless vision of youth, I anticipated most buildings in the Golden State powered by solar or other renewable energy. And although it’s been a long time coming, and we’re certainly facing the darkest hour, the day can finally dawn on California’s solar/renewable energy age – if we take advantage of the opportunity we have now.
Everybody’s talking, “Think global climate change, act locally to reduce greenhouse gases.” And the mayors of Marina, Monterey, Pacific Grove and Salinas have done more than talk; they signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, and they are looking for new ways to take effective action.
As the Weekly’s Kera Abraham reported (“Tax Me, Please,” July 2-8), the Board of Supervisors received letters on June 23 from mayors of 10 local cities – Carmel, Del Rey Oaks, Gonzales, Greenfield, King City, Marina, Monterey, Pacific Grove, Salinas, and Seaside – all voicing their personal support for a Clean Energy Revolving Fund for Monterey County, administered under Assembly Bill 811; since then, Mayor Richard Ortiz of Soledad has added his endorsement too. The mayors recognize that AB 811 provides a golden opportunity to create jobs and save on energy and water bills, and a green opportunity to meet the greenhouse gas reduction goals of AB 32. In addition, a Clean Energy Revolving Fund could help locals link up with stimulus monies provided through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Besides individual homes, Monterey County already has successful solar-powered businesses and other facilities. They include: Chartwell School in Seaside, Constellation Winery in Gonzales, Hayward Lumber’s Salinas location, Laura and Drew Jensen Highlands Craftsman in Big Sur, Neff Mill & Cabinet in Marina, Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, the Samson Student Center at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, the Unitarian Universalist Church in Carmel, and in rural Monterey County, Tehama Golf Club and York School.
These solar-powered locals recognize that reducing greenhouse gases and being financially successful are not either/or propositions. But the investment, while sound, can take years to pay off.
WE CAN STRENGTHEN OUR LOCAL ECONOMY WHILE HELPING TO REVERSE CLIMATE CHANGE RIGHT WHERE WE LIVE AND WORK.
A Clean Energy Revolving Fund can help make that often prohibitive investment possible, turning on the solar/renewable energy switch for more than just a relative few. Congressman Sam Farr and Jason K. Burnett, former EPA associate deputy administrator and head of the local start-up Burnett EcoEnergy, are among those who suggest we establish a Clean Energy Revolving Fund that builds off the model of Berkeley FIRST (Financing Initiative for Renewable and Solar Technology).
Berkeley FIRST remedies many financial obstacles facing property owners who want to install solar systems. Palm Desert, Santa Monica, and Sonoma County have launched similar programs. For Monterey County, Burnett emphasizes that energy efficiency should be in the mix. And the benefits are not limited to reducing greenhouse gases. A properly designed program can also increase water conservation.
But do residential and business property owners really want to participate in such a program, given the uncertain economy? Berkeley’s pilot program, on its Nov. 5, 2008 launch date, filled up after only nine minutes. Sonoma County’s Energy Independence Program, launched March 25, 2009, received over 700 inquiries in its first three weeks.
As our local mayors emphasized to the Board of Supervisors, financial and environmental benefits can be extraordinary for Monterey County. In just over two years, consumers in Palm Desert – roughly one-tenth the population of our county – saved $20 million in water and energy bills while reducing by 36,000 metric tons their greenhouse gas emissions (equivalent to taking 7,000 cars off the road).
Although 10 mayors voiced personal support, the action of city councils is still needed. Residents, local business owners, civic and religious groups, and others can help by asking every city council to pass a resolution supporting a Monterey County Clean Energy Revolving Fund.
We can strengthen our local economy while helping to reverse climate change right where we live and work.
This is a golden – and green – opportunity. Let’s make the most of it.