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Dennisallen2

Dennis A. wants to be free from fossil fuels

My journey is one of many steps. Thirty years ago I built a modest house for our family near the upper end of Mission Canyon that was quite green at the time. Our utility bills were miniscule. Nevertheless, in 1999, we installed photovoltaic panels to generate most of our electricity. However, I was troubled by the fact that, living in upper Mission Canyon, we went everywhere around town in our cars -- yes, that is plural. The only way I saw to reduce this dependence on fossil fuel was to move downtown.

Concern about energy and resource use evolved from a basic value that I have held for a long time -- namely, the sacredness of all life. Spending a lot of time camping and backpacking as a child and teenager shaped this reverence for life and my becoming a conscientious objector to war.

As we know, tensions around the possession and exploitation of the planet's finite resources—fossil fuels being prominent on this list—have and continue to lead to many wars and the destruction of many creatures and habitats. I remember being stuck in long lines of cars waiting for gas during the OPEC oil embargo in 1973. That event sparked my involvement with solar energy and efforts to move away from our over-reliance on fossil fuels. This awareness has undergirded my path of using fewer non-replaceable resources.

About 6 years ago, we and 2 other couples began designing a 4 condo infill project just a few blocks off State Street. We harnessed the sun for powering the buildings in all ways—space heating, hot water, and electricity. This combined with rigorous energy conservation measures has nearly freed us from fossil fuels in our homes.

The next step was to get rid of my car, which I did about 8 months ago. Now biking or walking gets me wherever I need to go with the occasional negotiated use of my wife's car. Even though my geographic world has shrunk, my interactive world has increased. I meet more people—old friends, new friends and casual interactions—than I ever did in the past. Best of all, I love it.

Being a part of a small living community has also been wonderful. Visiting, helping, borrowing, lending and sharing on a daily basis is a lost pattern of living for most of America.

The frosting on the cake for this journey (and totally unplanned) is having our son, his partner, and their new baby – our granddaughter – living in the flat just above us. Multi-generations living together is prevalent in most countries of the world but not so common in the U.S. today. This old family living arrangement has brought us great joy and richness. It makes me think often of the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child."

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The Rodgers completed their energy makeover

Dr. Timothy Rodgers and his wife Pamela live in a 1948 home near Hendry's Beach. Over the years, they've been on a mission to retrofit their home to make more energy efficient. They've replaced single paned windows with double paned, added insulation to the attic, and replaced halogen lights with LEDs. Making a home more efficient is highly recommended before adding solar panels because "you don't want to have to pay for a system that's any larger than you need," Timothy says.

After talking with 6-8 solar contractors and getting several bids, he contracted with REC Solar to install an 8.4 kW solar system on a hillside on his property in 2009. "We went with an 18-year lease – they do all the maintenance, manage any equipment that might break, and will replace the inverter when it dies, which is expected to be after 10 years."

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My road to energy sustainability

Envision a future when your electrical production comes from the "solar garden" on your roof, when you can get around town in a plug-in car powered by clean energy (which the roof system will now support), and when your food production comes from the garden in your back yard. You are guaranteed a reduction in your monthly electrical bills, gasoline bills and food bills.

It's this vision of the future that motivates me on my lifelong journey toward energy sustainability. I have been tapping away at this challenge for more than 40 years and I am on the right path. I visualize my journey in 4 phases:

  • Electricity production – Complete.
    Solar panels and a 10 kW wind generator are all up and running. The electrical portion was quite possibly the most complicated and expensive step. My original estimation was that the monthly savings that I would enjoy, once the system was up and running, would allow me to pay off the initial cost of the system in a little over ten years. With AB 920 becoming available, this time period will be reduced. Check out my bill from April...

  • Transportation – In progress.
    My six year old Prius is a transitional car that has religiously produced a 40 mpg average. I am looking forward to see what the transition to the next generation of electric cars will produce.

  • Food sustainability – In progress.
    My extensive experience with organic gardening and Santa Barbara Heirloom Nursery will greatly assist me in accomplishing this goal.

  • Conservation, awareness, consciousness, education – In progress.
    I remain aware of my energy choices on a daily basis and take action to conserve everywhere I can. We have dual glazed windows and a sod roof in our home; architectural design that maximizes the site location; solar pumps for water well and koi pond. We're also raising children with this energy consciousness as a template.

As food, electricity and gasoline prices continue to go up, I know that my long range plans will be productive and would be productive for anyone. It's really pretty simple and altogether achievable.

Hopefully one day my grandson will look back on all of this and be able to see my vision of the future. He'll know that his family played a small but significant part in promoting sustainability and will do his part to promote it in his own life.

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