Andrew J. Pridgen gathers a little bit of data and insight about the actually historic move in the wake of the Sierra Nevada mountain town’s decision and finds out going renewable-only is about as short a play as parenthood as well as a way to empower, and grow up a community. Oh, and it’s also a really good way to say wake the fuck up. (This means you Tom McClintock and Mark Zuckerberg.)
South Lake Tahoe’s visage appeals to the itinerant visitor: Skiing, casinos, skiing into casinos …and Fatburger — all before noon. Beneath the skin, SLT has evolved into much more than a stop over for the Looney Tunes jean jacket-embroidered Rocklin sect (I mean, it was the last outpost for Miller’s Outpost.) It is a town that voted to join 25 others in the the U.S. when it comes to what’s next thanks mostly to its aggressive and growing band of well-educated and well-versed eco-industry all-stars. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is headquartered there and thusly many of the state’s, if not nation’s, best offshoot environmental consulting, nonprofit, engineering and PR firms — and their staffs — have hung shingles and made it home.
Patricia Sussman, long-time Basin denizen, one-time server-turned-journalist, turned ecological consultant/grant writer, turned community activist and mother of two, is emerging as one of the patron saints of this dedicated if not oddball community of activists and outdoor revelers — not as much a spokesperson but a representation of those who have chosen to make it home, raise their young and look for a better day among the rubble of the destroyers in power.
Here then, are some things you ought to know about the movement to 100% renewable by 2032 from the inside out. Also, she uses a sine curve analogy to illustrate how the community there talks about the future of its airport — which used to be the no. 1 drug-supplying tarmac in the region, but since the TSA got serious now requires a little TLC and …well, we’ll let you read the rest…
There are lots of cool things about the city of South Lake Tahoe making the 100% renewable commitment by 2032, which means, by the way, a commitment to service the entire community with electricity from 100% renewable sources. Sometimes people think the commitment applies to just municipal buildings — not the case here — it’s a city-wide commitment.
The two national organizations supporting and tracking city commitments to renewable energy – the Climate Reality Project’s “I AM PRO SNOW” campaign and the Sierra Club’s “Ready for 100% “ campaign, both have criteria for what constitutes a sufficiently strong commitment within a time frame ambitious and aggressive enough to be noteworthy. South Lake Tahoe’s resolution met both organizations’ criteria and thus, South Lake Tahoe became just the 26th city in the U.S. to commit to a clean energy future.
It feels good to be part of a community that has shown broad support for such a resolution. It also feels good to have passed the resolution within Tom McClintock’s congressional district.
Certainly there are few representatives with their head deeper in the sand than McClintock who publicly and proudly states when faced with climate change statistics that “the earth warmed when the dinosaurs were alive as well.” I may be paraphrasing a little there, but not much. He may have used “dinosaur” in the same sentence as “Triassic period” at the South Lake town hall last fall — making the statement sound more official.
It’s such a bummer to have a climate change denier representing a region experiencing a tree mortality crisis that threatens its economic existence, not to mention the actual lives and property of pretty much every single person that lives here.
How bad is it? USFS aerial counts from 2016 estimated in excess of 100 million dead trees in the Sierra region – up from 29 million dead trees just a couple years ago. If you ask McClintock – he’ll tell you it’s a crisis, but that it’s not related to climate change.
There’s also the irony that McClintock’s district includes Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park and Sequoia Kings National Park. Irony because — who would appoint an ideologue that hates the government and doesn’t believe in science to govern a district that is something like 80% federal land?
It’s a rhetorical question because I already know the answer, which is, people who live in the foothills and have never left. I know because I grew up in the foothills and, as my Jewish husband likes to point out, didn’t know Jewish people were real until I left to college.
With the resolution adopted, the group of citizens who managed to generate the social and political will to make adoption happen now have the green light to get down to implementation businesses.
We’re getting together this week to talk about drafting a roadmap to 100%, and to initiate creation of a sustainability committee that will work with the City to identify grants, build staff capacity, assist with public relations and work on creating creative electricity contracts. Our local electricity provider, Liberty Utility, has been good to work with so far and we have reason to expect that Liberty will, to some degree, want to find ways to assist with the 100% renewable energy effort.
Thanks to Liberty [Utilities} and the Luning Solar Field out in Nevada, South Lake Tahoe is already 25% solar powered. It’s likely that going 100% renewable will mostly mean sourcing our energy from more solar fields in Nevada, or elsewhere outside the basin. It will also mean finding ways to reduce our overall energy consumption so that we can lower our total demand and thus have a better chance of meeting that demand with renewables.
A friend asked me if there was danger of the City’s commitment resulting in some kind of hydropower scheme associated with Lake Tahoe or its tributaries, to which I can safely say, no. The Upper Truckee River Marsh restoration project, a RESTORATION project, has been more than two-decades in the planning phase because Tahoe just can’t make it through its own environmental regulations to increase the sinuosity of a river channelized by 1960’s development. So, it’s not like the city is about to successfully dam the Upper Truckee River, or any watershed in the basin to generate hydropower. If South Lake manages to closely source any of its renewable power, it will be through good use of rooftop solar, or maybe, if a small miracle happens, wind power.
The South Lake Tahoe airport is a potential wind or solar field. The airport costs the city several hundred thousand dollars per year to operate. Mostly because of this egregious cost there is a kind of sine curve related airport discussions. The highpoint of the curve is when a group of people rally to make it a commercial airport. The low point of the curve is when a group of people rally to demolish the thing entirely. It’s unlikely, but I’m hopeful the renewable energy resolution could break the pattern such that the city would finally decide to demolish the landing strip forever by replacing it with solar panels, and thus turn what is a wasteland money hole into a wasteland money generator. How about that idea!
Technology, as Stephen Hawking will tell you, and as escapism advocate and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg will agree, is moving super-fast. I heard someone on NPR say that Hawking believes civilization as we know it will expire within 200 years — possibility due to artificial intelligence, but more likely due to nuclear war or climate change. Zuckerberg might agree with that too — but he’s not interested in figuring out how to avoid the catastrophe, only how to drown out the suffering associated with it. At least — that was my takeaway after hearing the synthesis of a talk he gave recently where he spoke of creating virtual realities that would allow people to turn their homes into Hogwart’s Academy and watch sharks swim around in their cereal. Huh. This is what I think about that: if you’ve got the money and the willful selfishness to ignore mass extinction at your doorstep, lucky you.
Our electrical system is complex, mostly because it involves actual physical infrastructure — wires and poles that require natural resources to build and maintain — but the concept of “platform based grids” of decentralized power structures are emerging. The technical descriptions and language mean little to me right now, though I’m looking to firm up my grip on the options. I do get the tension between wanting to expand where we source energy with needing to ensure a renewable and stable energy supply. Researchers interested in the subject can look up terms like: “distribution system operator”, “virtual power plant” and “distribution resource plans.” I believe there are possibilities in that realm. I’m confident we’ll make 100% renewable happen.