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A  cousin who lives in Thousand Oaks just wrote that “inspired by generous rebates and federal tax credits, we decided to put solar panels on our roof,” and soon after, they exchanged their 20-year old water heater for a tankless type.

Day after day I read about the advantages of going solar; it was  reported that the huge Toyota-GM automobile plant down south due to close might be converted to the manufacture of solar panels. We see so few solar systems being installed in Lompoc that I wonder if there are impediments to returning power to the grid in a publicly-owned system such as ours. Would PG&E refuse to buy it? Could they? But PG&E isn’t in business for its health.

The LA Times on Feb. 10 ran a really scary piece that probably only a few of us cranks read. PG&E has invested over $6 million in qualifying a measure to be called Prop 16 for the June 8 primary ballot. The measure, in effect, as I read the story, would  gut publicly-owned utility systems by requiring “any public entity must get approval by 2/3 of the voters” before launching or  expanding its public power service, or floating bonds to finance the service” (Michael Hiltzlik, LA Times page B1, Feb. 10, 2010).

A 2002 law authorized a new form of municipal utility known as “community choice aggregation” (CCA), which would allow communities to import energy from renewable sources. PG&E at first supported the law, but is now refusing to cooperate, saying that residents would find that the CCA would cost more than expected. Their concern for the utility customer is touching, but the ungrateful officials of San Francisco say PG&E is trying to undermine their efforts to take advantage of the new law.

I don’t see any kind of opposition to solar panels in Lompoc — speaking of obstacles — so why don’t we see more of them in Lompoc? Are there pitfalls I haven’t seen mentioned?

As for water conservation, almost any paper I pick up lately touts the virtues of saving or reclaiming water, from capturing rainfall in rain barrels, cisterns or other receptacles, to more complicated diversionary systems. One writer suggested creating bioswales, but most of us in Lompoc don’t have that kind of space.

A city legal notice published in the Record Feb. 9 describes proposed amendments to the city code relating to water-efficient landscaping and irrigation systems. We in Lompoc have been pretty good about reducing our lawn areas and using low-water using plants, and using rocks and so on to create interesting front yards. I think the ordinance also mentions using pervious materials for walkways, etc., to absorb the water into the ground, but I didn’t reread the long small print text, to be sure.

The strict, sensible rules apply to new development only; I don’t think a water cop is going to knock on your door and say “Dig up your turf!” The rules make sense in our climate; they save both water and money while considering aesthetics.

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In the big picture, and certainly the most exciting development, is the wave energy pilot announced by a partnership between Vandenberg Air Force Base and PG&E. Soon after it was announced, we read about the JASON Project at Cabrillo High School to create interest in science among fourth graders and their lesson in harvesting the power of the ocean, using aquarium tanks and leaf blowers. I remember when I was a child reading of President Franklin Roosevelt’s interest in the power that could be generated by the massive tides in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, Canada. Back then, a time when we’d be looking for alternatives to coal, wood and dams, was scarcely thought of.

Lompoc, like most communities, has ingenious tinkerers who have built their personal energy and water systems. I hope they keep on dreaming, figuring and tinkering. Maybe in Lompoc, there’s the vision that will heat our houses, power our machinery, clean our water, and make this an even better place to live.

Bess Christensen is a 40-year resident of Lompoc and a community activist. “The Forward View” is a progressive look at local issues that runs every Wednesday. For information, call 736-1897 or e-mail at howerton62@aol.com.

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