On April 16th I attended the town hall meeting at Marquez Charter Elementary School addressing the issue of the LADWP substation. I had nothing better to do on a Monday night, so I figured I'd go. In addition, it was also a chance to visit my old alma mater as I hadn't stepped foot in that school since graduating in 1973.
I was really taken back walking into the auditorium. Everything--even the uncomfortable wooden chairs was the same. I strolled across the stage and could remember standing on the risers during a winter holiday concert with Mrs. Barnes conducting. But I digress. Let's get back to present day, 2012.
The meeting was pretty much what you saw on this CBS news report. There was outrage and anger. Even the LADWP representative got a good dressing-down, being told to sit down and shut up. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. As much as LADWP seems to be ubiquitously despised, we must find a way to work with them. Disrespect is not a diplomatic approach that will serve the community.
There was something extraordinary that happened that evening that did not make the news. A man named James Brennan stood up and offered a challenge to Pacific Palisades to be running on 100% clean power by 2018. He was so inspiring that everyone applauded. He sent around a petition for people to sign to show support in this goal. The pages were filled up with names. I didn't sign it. I don't sign petitions as a rule. I felt I needed some more information first.
After the meeting I came up to him, and we talked a bit. We both agreed the energy paradigm is shifting and that local, renewable energy might be a more attractive alternative than continually building new substations to keep up with ever-increasing energy demands. Solar is the new technology coming, and the biggest stumbling block is the expense. However, like all technologies from digital watches to computers, initial prices are high but do eventually come down. The question is how long must we wait and how long can we afford to wait when we have pressing matters like this substation?
Before writing this post, I felt I should talk to James some more and do my own fact checking. I can't promise 100% accuracy, but I hope this post will lead you to begin doing your own homework.
I spoke to James on the phone for an hour, and he was very generous with his information. His journey began when he and his neighbors in Mar Vista were frustrated that they couldn't afford to go solar. So they got together and began researching how it might be affordable for them. This also required working with LADWP to seek solutions. This small neighborhood venture morphed into the organization James now represents, Open Neighborhoods.
Open Neighborhoods has made monumental steps in seeking solutions with LADWP and acquiring a list of reputable solar installers. Being deeply concerned with global sustainability, Open Neighborhoods is now reaching out to other Southern California communities to offer assistance, guidance, and inspiration as we all navigate this unparalleled paradigm shift.
To reduce our current energy load drastically, it is imperative that large facilities like our grocery stores, multi-family units, and schools go solar. The opportunity for these kinds of projects presented itself April 17th with LADWP's new Solar Feed-In Tariff program. As part of this program, our grocery stores could install ground mounted solar systems or solar parking canopies in their parking lots. The energy produced by these are sold to the LADWP and then may be sold back to the community for use. Solar parking canopies have the added benefit of being an access point for charging stations for those with electric cars in addition to keeping all our cars cool and protected from the elements. Cool cars don't require air conditioning at start-up, so there is potential for reduction in fuel consumption and gas emissions.
The other area for reducing energy load is our homes. How can solar be affordable to homeowners? James said there are neighborhood buying discounts available for volume purchases. I discovered our local solar company here in Pacific Palisades, Suntricity, offers these. This would mean rolling up our sleeves and talking to our neighbors; something we don't do so much. However, it may be worthwhile to begin and just think how such discussions might transform our community culture in a lovely way.
James told me something I already knew; there are some solar installers offering leasing programs with zero money down for installation and maintenance. Rather you pay a monthly fee which is far below one's monthly utility bill. This is one of the most do-able approaches in Mar Vista. I've heard radio commercials for Solar City, a company that does just this, but James can offer other names to compare cost and terms of contract.
With Solar City if you sell your home before the lease is up, you can transfer the lease to the new owner or pay off the lease and include the amount in the selling price of the home. James also told me there are now financing programs with 2% fixed APR loans. From what I understand, having solar increases the property value. With the energy costs rising, wouldn't having a solar unit installed in the home you are selling offer significant added value for the buyer?
As I was doing my research a friend of mine from Humboldt County offered another alternative for installing solar. Even though he is not a contractor he installed his own system himself, and it was significantly less money than having it done professionally. So I called our local Department of Building and Safety to find out if a solar permit could be obtained by someone who is not a contractor. I was told a non-contractor could obtain a permit as a owner/builder. I was cautioned that it's a complex job and requires a lot of know-how, but doing it yourself can be done.
There is one other significant point I need make regarding the workability of solar in our climate here in Pacific Palisades. I recognize that Humboldt County has long rainy seasons, so I asked my friend whether that poses a problem there. He said before he put in his system, people warned him it would never work because of the rain and fog in the area, but he's never had a problem. In fact solar is so successful there that in his city of Arcata the city hall, various local schools, and hundreds of homes are going solar and successfully producing plenty of energy.
After everything I heard from James and what I learned from my own research I am sold on the goal of this 2018 deadline. James told me there is an online petition, and I signed it--something I never do. I just couldn't help myself as this is not only dear to my heart but maybe even possible. Signing it does not obligate me in any way. Rather my signature offers both a vehicle to set a community intention and a sign of a profound commitment to this goal which can serve us well in dealing with the LADWP.
I do not know if we can avoid the issue of the placement of this substation especially if we are slow-moving on going solar. I read in the LA Times that there is much distrust that the LADWP can provide all they promise with their new solar program; however, I still stand behind my signature on that petition. It is my experience that when you set a focused intention, life finds a way for that intention to manifest. Just think what power would be unleashed if thousands of citizens set that intention? It would light up the whole community without turning on a switch. Wouldn't it be a beautiful thing if our community united over a solution rather than divided over a problem?