As I take a deep calming breath, and anticipate the day we bring our crew back to work and resume installing solar arrays, I am thinking about opportunities to do things better societally, not just resume exactly as we have done until now. In the US, we strive to balance rewarding ingenuity and hard work, removing barriers for people to better themselves, while also taking care of those who struggle because of lack of access to opportunity, discrimination, disability, ill-health, or just plain bad luck. Achieving this balance is one of the ideals my country holds. That being said, we all recognize there is, and has always been, a significant inertia in the reality that the rich get richer, and the rest are sometimes left behind. Removing the unfair advantages brought by wealth and privilege should be one of our collective goals when examining any policy, federally or locally.
So what does this mean in terms of access to clean energy? There are two unfortunate examples of our failure to do this on my mind from recent conversations.
A friend from Bainbridge Island lives in a condo in downtown Winslow. She works within 20 miles of her house and visits her parents here in Port Townsend a few times a month. It is rare for her to need to drive more than 100 miles in a day. She wants to trade in her existing aging car for a newer model, and she wants an electric vehicle for her and her young child. I am a fan of Nissan Leafs, but there are now many excellent choices across a spectrum of price and range, and there is no doubt it would save her lots of money on gasoline (and decrease her personal carbon emissions.). The challenge is that because she is not a homeowner, she does not have access to a dependably available EV charging location. There are a couple of EV spots for recharging within a few blocks of her house, but even that distance is inconvenient when she has her child and perhaps groceries in the winter. Ideally she needs the dependability of being able to charge when she needs to, close to home. She has been doing a little on-the-ground research and sees that the equipment and spots are often occupied by another EV when she would park. She does not feel comfortable with the prospect of having to park elsewhere when she gets home, and having to go back out to check the availability of the charging spot and move her car in the evening so its is full again in the morning. Her workplace has one EV spot in the garage, but it also is often occupied by customers or other employees.
This is an example of how increasing our public investment in EV Service Equipment infrastructure, and incorporating requirements for EVSE spaces in new development would help provide fair access to clean electric vehicles to people who are not currently homeowners. These are important policies we need to adopt now, since we have not already done so. It is past time for this in my thinking.
Regarding the Community Solar Project here in Port Townsend, it appears that the current application submitted by Jefferson PUD to build a community solar array will not be approved in time for the project to come to fruition. This is a great shame for many reasons. Primarily it was the opportunity to utilize generous state funds for projects just like this in a way that would benefit our community, especially those who don’t own their own homes. Are you seeing a trend here? Homeowners that want access to clean solar energy generally have it installed on their own roof, provided it is not too shady. Even in the case that someone doesn’t have immediate access to the cash for these projects, there is a significant federal tax credit, and also several sources of local credit unions offering low interest energy efficiency loans. Access to solar is much more difficult for a renter or condo-dweller since they don’t own their own roof on which to install solar. Community solar projects are common sense and economical ways to make the benefits of solar available to everybody in small slices. People who are able to participate in community solar projects enjoy a long term economic benefit; these projects can help individuals and households hedge against rising energy costs while participating in the clean energy future most of us envision. From my observation, it appears that some neighboring homeowners had objections to this project on an aesthetic basis, and successfully have prevented the project through active obstruction through the public permitting process. The concept that an existing utility sub-station might not be an appropriate for a ground-mounted solar array is mind-boggling to me, but apparently the city staff is sympathetic to these views of some neighboring homeowners. I am making a strong statement here, which would surely be vigorously disputed by some. I would welcome respectful communication, and will gladly admit if I can be shown to be wrong. The missed opportunity of about $110,000 of state funds, and our city’s failure to nurture this project is a loss for our community in many ways.
The pandemic we are currently experiencing, the concern over potential loss of lives, and our necessary short-term economic pain to try to prevent the worst losses, are bringing new perspectives to our values. What do we truly deem important for our future? The challenge of carbon emissions and the opportunities of cleaning our energy portfolio have not gone away while we have focused on more immediate concerns. The past does not have to determine our future. What steps can we take to build the world we want to emerge from this time of quiet disruption? How can we make clean energy technology and its benefits available to all?