San Luis Obispo County has the opportunity to become a leader in the emerging “green economy” — one of the few growing sectors of the national economy.
In a rare confluence of time, place and events, we can create new jobs for our county while assuring a better environment. However, we must plan appropriately.
Central to the new “green” economy is renewable energy development. Renewable energy has become a necessity for both the nation’s economic recovery and for national security.
California is uniquely positioned to lead the way. Our state has the renewable energy resources, existing clean energy legislation and a state government committed to achieving this shift. Many states have only one or two of these resources in place.
Just as California is the most well-situated state for advancing renewable energy, San Luis Obispo County is California’s best-situated region to lead the state for similar reasons:
1) Renewable energy resources. We have dry, fog-free, high valleys that provide excellent solar resources. Our long coastline and deep waters create the optimal tidal energy resources. Energy generated from alternative energy sources can be distributed statewide because of existing transmission lines and our central location.
2) Unique, innovative programs. Both the city and the county of San Luis Obispo have developed “Climate Action Plans” pursuant to state guidelines, as well as the state-funded Renewable Energy Secure Community study. That puts our region in the forefront of not only analytical study and planning, but also green energy implementation strategies.
3) A Board of Supervisors dedicated to building a vibrant economy. San Luis Obispo County residents have reached consensus concerning the preservation of our quality of life and the development of compatible businesses. We have more flexibility in adopting new approaches than more populous counties to the north, south and east.
Technological developments have changed the characteristics of renewable energy production, yet when discussing policy and planning, we are often stuck with an outdated vocabulary. For instance, during recent county planning and policy discussions, no distinction was made between solar thermal and solar photovoltaic power plants. However, these facilities are quite different in terms of both process and impact.
Development of the Carrizo Plain solar power plants is just one of many issues we face in determining renewable energy solutions. Rooftop photovoltaic power, wave energy and conservation are also part of the mix.
We can deal with each in a piecemeal manner — with resulting conflict and inaction — or we can consider them as part of a proactive plan.
If we develop a plan with a broad base of support and founded on new approaches, we will vastly improve our economic, environmental and social bottom line. Some approaches include:
Distinguishing between classical industrial energy production and more passive energy production to allow rational discussions about large-scale solar facilities. Passive production uses ambient temperatures and has no major moving parts.
Shifting the emphasis from eco-efficiency, which emphasizes negative impacts, to eco-effectiveness, which emphasizes positive outcomes. An example is environmental impact reports, which focus almost exclusively on negative impacts. We need to add environmental opportunity reports that focus on positive environmental potentials.
Developing the vocabulary that distinguishes between three different approaches to renewable energy: production-centered (such as power plants or generating facilities); consumption-centered (how energy can be used more effectively with less waste); and hybrid, which combines both on a small scale (for example, a home or factory with passive solar heating and lighting and solar hot water and electricity generation).
Recognizing the advantages of synergy between these three approaches as well as the benefits to employment, housing, transportation, etc.
Acknowledging that we are all in this together and that by reaching agreement within our diverse perspectives, we can all greatly benefit in this new emerging economic reality.
The opportunity to lead our region, the state and perhaps the nation in growing the “new” green economy is within our grasp. We have the leadership to do so. The time is now, and the place is here.
Ken Haggard is the principal architect for the San Luis Sustainability Group and Professor Emeritus, Cal Poly School of Architecture. John Ewan is owner of Pacific Energy Company. Tom Murray is vice president of SLO Green Build and a building contractor.