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A Conservative Embraces Driving on Sunshine

Aaron is not your typical “go green” kind of guy. He thinks that the country’s solar industry has been too heavily subsidized. And don’t get him started on climate change. None of that, however, stopped Aaron from installing solar panels on his home or purchasing a plug-in hybrid vehicle. Come again?
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Thinking outside the box and bottle

To me, huge stockpiles of stuff is crazy making. What I see are expiration dates and things calling out “do something with me!” The idea of buying cases and pallets of merchandise individually packaged screams waste, so I prefer to source household staples in simple, sustainable quantities.

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Rethinkthedrink2014

Students are part of the plastic-reduction solution

“I want to do something about all the plastic waste. I want to be an environmental scientist.” Those words of wisdom and hope came from a seventh-grade girl at La Cumbre Junior High earlier this month. The Community Environmental Council’s (CEC) Rethink the Drink staff visited the school and spoke to over 300 students about the importance of reducing our dependence on single-use plastic products.
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Leaflease

Mikki J. is driving an electric car for $116/month

I consider myself an energy-conscious and open-minded person, but I have been admittedly stubborn about cars. As a faithful Volvo owner for over 20 years, I hadn't really considered driving an electric car.

A few months ago, my son Michael said to me, "Mom! You really should consider getting an electric vehicle. Since most of your driving is your commute to work and you bike and walk so much, it'd fit into your lifestyle well. Besides, you rarely go out of town." My response was, "No thank you, I'm waiting for Volvo to introduce a plug-in hybrid or all electric car."

However, Michael (also CEC's Transportation Manager) invited me to test drive a few hybrids and the Nissan LEAF pure electric car. WOW! I could not believe how much I enjoyed driving the LEAF. Much to my surprise, it handled easily, was very responsive and was quite swift, smooth and snappy. At the time, the $35,000+ purchase price or $350 lease option was over my budget. I set a goal to eventually own a LEAF in 5 to 7 years. I planned to sell my trusty Volvo, buy an affordable Prius C in the interim, and hoped LEAF prices would drop enough for me to own one.

Less than 2 weeks ago, my plans changed. I took advantage of an offer from Santa Barbara Nissan to lease a pure electric LEAF for $199/month with $1,999 down (Editor's note: We're not sure how long this particular offer will last. Contact the local dealer for current promotions and check online). This low price is likely due to the fact that LEAF sales have been slow this year, and Nissan is looking to clear out its inventory to make room for the 2013 LEAFs.

In addition, I qualify for a $2,500 California rebate. This rebate (minus the down payment) means that I will be driving for free for the first 3.5 months. After that, my lease will cost $216 (after taxes) per month. I also calculated that I would be saving around $100 per month in gasoline. (I previously spent around $150 per month on gas, but expect my electric bill to increase by about $50 per month). For a total of $116 per month, leasing the LEAF was a no-brainer. Now, I am so proud and thrilled to be driving electric!

Since I rarely drive more than 25 miles in a day, I'm using a regular 120 volt outlet in my garage for charging (as many LEAF owners do). Later, if I find I need to charge up faster, I could always add a 240 volt charger. My garage already has a 240 volt outlet from an old electric dryer, and I could purchase a charging station for $900 at Home Depot.

I take very few road trips, and when I do they are either to LA or the Bay Area. Nissan is now offering the LEAF lease with 10 free rental days with a gasoline car, for those occasional trips. I also could join friends in their car on a road trip, or switch cars with my son when I want to go out of town.

I'm simply thrilled to be off oil! It certainly happened much sooner than the 5 to 7 years I had originally projected. I will not miss driving all around town, fretfully checking and comparing gas prices. Imagine what a totally gratifying experience it is now, as I drive by gas stations with a huge smile!

I'm considering solar panels next, so look for me soon, as I will be driving on sunshine.

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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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Mobyduck

CEC joins “SB Reads” to quack about plastic

When Moby-Duck author, Donovan Hohn, heard about the mysterious loss of 28,800 bath toys at sea, he figured he would interview a few oceanographers, talk to a few beachcombers and read up on Arctic science and geography. Little did he know that he would be pulled into the mixed-up worlds of renegade beachcombers, Alaskan non-profit politics, Chinese toy manufacturers, and a massive environmental problem.

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Jaysolar

Jay H. soaks up the sun with solar panels

I have quite a bit of experience with solar systems in terms of remote telecommunications facilities where utility power isn't practical. These involve large battery banks and over-engineering to ensure reliable power for radio, microwave, and telephone relay stations that need to be up 24/7.

So, the idea of a solar system in a suburban area with plentiful utility power didn't make sense to me at first. Electricity is readily available at reasonable rates. It would be satisfying but not practical to pull the plug on Edison.

Then, I stumbled across a mention of solar "co-generation" on Southern California Edison’s website. Co-generation is when a customer connects a source of power such as solar or wind into the electric grid. With solar, California supplies a rebate to pay part of the cost, and the federal government provides an additional tax credit.

On further research I found the idea of co-generation kind of exciting. I can use the entire utility grid as my energy storage. I don't need a battery and I don’t need to design the system any bigger than my load.

I was also considering my electric vehicle (Chevy Volt). I decided the convenience of the 240-volt charger was worth it. Rebates cover half the cost of the charger and installation. If I came home from a day trip with a depleted battery I could plug in for a couple of hours and then go out to dinner on electricity. However, the Volt would be away from home when my solar panels would be generating power from the sun.

With co-generation, I just produce more power than I need when the sun shines, feed it to Edison, and then pull power from Edison at night to run my home and charge the car. I also switched to a rate plan that gives me much lower electric rates at night and credits me at higher rates in the daytime when the sun is shining and I'm producing electricity. Some friends were predicting that the Volt would cause my electric bill to skyrocket –ha!

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jayspanels

As luck would have it, I have a great roof for solar. It is south-facing and doesn't have any vents or obstructions. I had enough area to install panels that could generate about 4kW peak power. I'm good with my hands and have a lot of experience with wiring and electrical things. My initial plan was to install the solar as well as the level 2 car charger myself.

I quickly changed my mind about installing the solar because I'm not comfortable with the permit process and roof penetrations kind of scare me. I shopped around and chose Coastal Constructors to provide the hardware, do the mechanical work and take care of the permit paperwork. They did the wiring at the same time as they wired the charger, and everything passed inspection. Modern panels are a lot better looking than the earlier ones. I'm very happy with the appearance as well as the performance.

Another modification I considered was the inverter systems. Most grid-tied systems connect a number of panels in a series string to produce high-voltage DC, and then put in a large wall-mounted inverter to convert this to conventional AC power. I was not excited about this design. A fault in one panel can bring down a whole string. Due to the high DC voltages, the wiring is complicated.

I discovered a company in the Bay Area, Enphase, that does things differently. They manufacture micro-inverters. Each micro-inverter handles the output from one solar panel. One mounts underneath each panel and they connect in parallel. If one panel or inverter goes bad, the rest of the array keeps going. The DC wiring is low-voltage and needs no conduit.

In addition, my solar system has its own website that not only shows real-time and historical data for every panel, but can also alert me if there's ever a problem. If there's debris such as bird droppings on or an electrical problem affecting one panel, the other panels are not affected, and I get an email describing the issue and showing me which panel is in trouble.

It's now been in service for almost 10 months. I've ”banked” a bit over 6 megawatt-hours of electricity with Edison. Carbon offset a bit over 4 tons. Every month since installation I've produced more electricity than I've consumed. Not only am I driving on daylight, I'm powering my house with it and even providing solar energy to my neighbors via the grid-tie.

Kermit was wrong. It's easy being green. Take a look at my solar production >

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